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12.6: Conclusion and Hominin Species Summary

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    Modern Homo sapiens is the species that took the hominin lifestyle the furthest to become the only living member of that lineage. The largest factor that allowed us to persist while other hominins went extinct was likely our advanced ability to culturally adapt to a wide variety of environments. Our species, with its skeletal and behavioral traits, was well-suited to be generalist-specialists who successfully foraged across most of the world’s environments. The biological basis of this adaptation was our reorganized brain that facilitated innovation in cultural adaptations and intelligence for leveraging our social ties and finding ways to acquire resources from the environment. As the brain’s ability increased, it shaped the skull by reducing the evolutionary pressure to have large teeth and robust cranial bones to produce the modern Homo sapiens face.

    Our ability to be generalist-specialists is seen in the geographical range that modern Homo sapiens covered in 300,000 years. In Africa, our species formed from multiregional gene flow that loosely connected archaic humans across the continent. People then expanded out to the rest of the continental Eurasia and even further to the Americas.

    For most of our species’s existence, foraging was the general subsistence strategy within which people specialized to culturally adapt to their local environment. With omnivorousness and mobility, people found ways to extract and process resources, shaping the environment in return. When resource uncertainty hit the species, people around the world focused on agriculture to have a firmer control of sustenance. The new strategy shifted human history toward exponential growth and innovation, leading to our high dependence on cultural adaptations today.

    While a cohesive image of our species has formed in recent years, there is still much to learn about our past. The work of many driven researchers shows that there are amazing new discoveries made all the time that refine our knowledge of human evolution. Technological innovations such as DNA analysis enable scientists to approach lingering questions from new angles. The answers we get allow us to ask even more insightful questions that will lead us to the next revelation. Like the pink limestone strata at Jebel Irhoud, previous effort has taken us so far and you are now ready to see what the next layer of discovery holds.

    Hominin Species Summary

    Hominin Modern Homo sapiens
    Dates 315,000 years ago to present
    Region(s) Starting in Africa, then expanding around the world
    Famous discoveries Cro-Magnon individuals, discovered 1868 in Dordogne, France. Otzi the Ice Man, discovered 1991 in the Alps between Austria and Italy. Kennewick man, discovered 1996 in Washington state.
    Brain size 1400 cc average
    Dentition Extremely small with short cusps.
    Cranial features An extremely globular brain case and gracile features throughout the cranium. The mandibular symphysis forms a chin at the anterior-most point.
    Postcranial features Gracile skeleton adapted for efficient bipedal locomotion at the expense of the muscular strength of most other large primates.
    Culture Extremely extensive and varied culture with many spoken and written languages. Art is ubiquitous. Technology is broad in complexity and impact on the environment.
    Other The only living hominin. Chimpanzees and bonobos are the closest living relatives.

    This page titled 12.6: Conclusion and Hominin Species Summary is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Keith Chan (Society for Anthropology in Community Colleges) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.