Recent Human Evolution in Northwestern Africa

Jean-Jacques Hublin

Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences, Vol. 337, No. 1280, The Origin of Modern Humans and the Impact of Chronometric Dating (Aug. 29, 1992), pp. 185-191


The first modern humans in the Maghreb are said to be associated with the Aterian industries which appeared at least 40 ka BP in the northwest. Their predecessors are mainly represented by the Jebel Irhoud (Morocco) specimens. Palaeontological evidence, as well as electron spin resonance (ESR) dating, suggests that this series is older than previously published, and should belong to oxygen isotope stage 5 or even 6. There is no evidence of any Neanderthal apomorphy in this group which can no longer be considered as `African Nanderthals'. Clear synapomorphies with modern man combined with some plesiomorphic retentions indicate a slightly more primitive (and older?) grade than the Qafzeh-Skhul sample in southwestern Asia. The Northwestern evidence demonstrates that the mediterranean sea was a major biological barrier during the upper Middle and lower Upper Pleistocene and that the rise of anatomically modern features cannot be restricted to a sub-Saharan of eastern African area.

Personal note:

I disagree with this position: partial to F. Clark Howell's theory of progressive Neanderthalids as ancestral to the classic West European Neanderthalids and Modern Man, Krapina and yet-to-identify Neanderthals matching the description of Amud and showing a transitional cranio-facial configuration and evolved built, swarmed under pressure of the advancing glaciers in the Early Last Glaciation deeper into Eastern Europe, settlinfg for Crimea and pushing farther south to the Levant, by which a broad racial continuum is created lasting well into the Aurignician period.

Meanwhile another branch managed to cross the Mediterrenean Sea by island hopping or by initial beachcombing movements(beachcombing among Neanderthals are documented at least 60000 BP, but these practices may well be older and their traces lost forever under flooded coastlines...), which brings them to a terminus:

Leaving Gibraltar for the unknown would be a hazardous undertaking for any species and it requires skills in navigation and a good understanding of weather conditions and tidal cycles.
The currents in the Strait are eastbound, because the water contribution of the Atlantic prevails, and they take courses of different directions and density. A counter current from the west can straighten it up, but a normal current may well achieve a speed of 5.5kmh.
In the Summer close to sunrise and sunset fog appears, which grows easily thick.

Nevertheless, today swimmers take up the challenge to swim over to Morocco, usually departing one to two hours before high tide.
It may sound far-fetched, but I think some Neanderthal groups were capable to think ahead, seek new "pasture" grounds and risk their lives and habits to start on the other side of the Mediterrenean Basin a new life.

Thanks to their coastal experience they understood the behaviour of weather, wind and water, they went on constructing primitive rafts where children, women, tools and other cargo were solidly mounted, while some males as a kind reconnaisance group went on swimming and others steered the rafts by pushing it forward in the water.

In time, some would have fallen prey to fatigue, hipotermia or nasty currents, even bad weather escalating into heavy showers, if not downright tempests killing entire families of pioneers.Others, however, would have found themselves lucky to land on the shores of North Africa.

Thus, it's not implausible that the Jebel Irhoud people were indeed descendants of this awesome sea trek.