From New Scientist:
New signposts on the path of early human migration
* 19:00 11 January 2007
* NewScientist.com news service
* Jeff Hecht
An old South African skull and an ancient settlement along the Don River in Russia lend crucial support to the idea that modern humans spread from Africa across Eurasia only 50,000 years ago.
African fossils show that modern humans had evolved by 195,000 years ago.
Yet the only evidence of modern humans outside of Asia for the next 150,000 years is a couple of sites about 100,000 years old in Israel, which appear to have been abandoned as the Ice Age grew more severe.
It had been a mystery what our ancestors were doing before the first evidence of their presence in Australia 45,000 to 50,000 years ago, and about 35,000 years ago in Europe.
Genetic studies suggest that modern humans did not emerge from Africa until about 50,000 years ago, but that late date has been controversial.
Now, two new studies support the genetic evidence, says Ted Goebel at the Center for the Study of the First Americans at Texas A&M University, US.
Originally found in a dry riverbed in 1952, the South African skull was unsuitable for radiocarbon dating.
One of the new studies has dated the sediment encased inside the skull to 36,000 years ago, and says the skull resembles the first modern humans who lived in Europe at about the same time.
Citing that resemblance, the team led by Frederick Grine of Stony Brook University in New York concludes that the South African fossil and its European contemporaries shared a recent common ancestor, and that modern humans had therefore arrived in Europe not long before. (Science, vol 315, p 226).
The Paleolithic site in Russia is between 42,000 and 45,000 years old, predating early human finds in central and eastern Europe.
The only human fossils are teeth that cannot be identified by species, but the artifacts – including possible art and shells imported from more than 500 kilometres away – look like they were made by early modern humans, argue Mikhail Anikovich of the Institute of the History of Material Culture in St. Petersburg, Russia, and colleagues (Science vol 315, p 223).
The location suggests that modern humans may have arrived from further east in Eurasia than in the classic depiction, in which Cro-Magnon man passed through Turkey into Europe, says Goebel.
Much more remains to be learned about modern human migration, but Goebel says the crucial sites will probably be in “places like Iran or Afghanistan, where European and US archaeologists haven’t been able to work for decades.”
Out of Africa migration of Homo sapiens and climate changes in Africa: here.
World’s oldest figurative sculpture? Here.
Early homo sapiens in China: here.
Early humans had sex for fun: here.
Neanderthal-sapiens relationships theory: here.
Neanderthals in Siberia: here.
Neanderthal DNA: here.
Neanderthal-human interbreeding? See here.
Neanderthals probably froze to death in the last ice age because rapid climate change caught them by surprise without the tools needed to make warm clothes, says an Australian researcher: here.
Neanderthals hunted marine mammals: here.