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12: Modern Homo sapiens

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    Keith Chan, Ph.D., University of Missouri: Grossmont College and MiraCosta College

    Learning Objectives

    • Identify the skeletal and behavioral traits that represent modern Homo sapiens.
    • Critically evaluate different types of evidence for the origin of our species in Africa, and our expansion around the world.
    • Understand how the human lifestyle changed when people transitioned from foraging to agriculture.
    Figure 12.1 The excavation of an exposed cave at Jebel Irhoud, Morocco, where hominin fossils were found in the 1960s and in 2007. Dating showed that they represent the earliest-known modern Homo sapiens.

    The walls of a pink limestone cave exposed to the outside world in the hillside of Jebel Irhoud jutted out of the otherwise barren landscape of the Moroccan desert (Figure 12.1). The year was 2007 and it turned out to be a momentous occasion for science. A fossil unearthed by a team of researchers was barely visible to the untrained eye. Just the fossil cranium’s robust brows were peering out of the rock. The find was welcome but not sheer luck: Hominin fossils have been found here since their first accidental discovery by miners in 1960. This research team from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology was just the latest to explore the prehistoric human presence in this part of North Africa. Excavating near the first discovery, the researchers wanted to learn more about how Homo sapiens lived far from East Africa, where we thought our species originated.

    The scientists were surprised when they analyzed the cranium, named Irhoud 10, and other fossils. Statistical comparisons with other human crania concluded that the Irhoud face shapes were typical of recent modern humans while the braincases matched ancient modern humans. Based on the findings of other scientists, the team expected these modern Homo sapiens fossils to be around 200,000 years old. Instead, dating revealed that the cranium had been buried for around 315,000 years.

    Together, the modern-looking facial dimensions and the older date changed the interpretation of our species, modern Homo sapiens. Our key evolutionary changes from the archaic Homo sapiens of the previous chapter to our species today happened 100,000 years earlier than what we had thought. In addition, the new information suggests that our home region covered more of the vast African continent instead of being concentrated in the east.

    This big addition to the study of modern Homo sapiens is just one of the latest in this continually advancing area of biological anthropology. Researchers are continually discovering amazing fossils and ingenious ways to collect data and test hypotheses about our past. Through the collective work of scientists, including archaeologists, geneticists, and anatomists, we are building an overall theory or explanation of modern human origins. We will first cover the skeletal changes from archaic Homo sapiens to modern Homo sapiens. Next, we will track how modern Homo sapiens expanded the range of its species around the world. Lastly, we will cover the development of agriculture and how it changed human culture to how we practice it today.

    About the Author

    Keith Chan, Ph.D.

    University of Missouri: Grossmont College and MiraCosta College,,

    Keith Chan

    Dr. Keith Chan is an instructor of anthropology at Grossmont College and MiraCosta College in San Diego County. He reached this step of his anthropological path after many memorable experiences across the country and the hemisphere. He earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2001. As a graduate student at the University of Missouri, he traveled to Perú with teams of students to study prehistoric skeletons to understand the lives of prehistoric Andeans. He completed his writing to earn a Ph.D. in 2011. Inspired by many educators in his journey, Dr. Chan turned his career toward teaching anthropology and helping students understand and appreciate humanity.

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    I could not have undertaken this project without the help of many who got me to where I am today. I extend sincere thank yous to the many colleagues and former students who have inspired me to keep learning and talking about anthropology. Thank you also to all who are involved in this textbook project. The anonymous reviewers truly sparked improvements to the chapter. Lastly, the staff of Starbucks #5772 also contributed immensely to this text.

    Figure Attributions

    Figure 12.1 View looking south of the Jebel Irhoud (Morocco) site by Shannon McPherron, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology Leipzig, is used under a CC BY-SA 2.0 License.

    Figure 12.2 Modern human and Neanderthal original to Explorations: An Open Invitation to Biological Anthropology by Mary Nelson is under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.

    Figure 12.3 Modern and archaic Homo sapiens skeletons original to Explorations: An Open Invitation to Biological Anthropology by Mary Nelson is under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.

    Figure 12.4 Loewenmensch1 by Dagmar Hollmann is used under a CC BY-SA 3.0 License.

    Figure 12.5 Maps depicting the estimated range of modern Homo sapiens through time original to Explorations: An Open Invitation to Biological Anthropology by Elyssa Ebding at GeoPlace, California State University, Chico is under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.

    Figure 12.6 A composite reconstruction of the earliest known Homo sapiens fossils from Jebel Irhoud (Morocco) based on micro computed tomographic scans by Philipp Gunz, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology Leipzig, is used under a CC BY-SA 2.0 License.

    Figure 12.7 Homo sapiens idaltu BOU-VP-16/1 Herto Cranium by ©BoneClones is used by permission and available here under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.

    Figure 12.8 Homo sapiens Skull Skhul 5 by ©BoneClones is used by permission and available here under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.

    Figure 12.9 Moulage de la sépulture de l’individu “Qafzeh 11” (avec ramure de cervidé), homme de Néandertal (Collections du Muséum national d’histoire naturelle de Paris, France) by Eunostos has been modified (cropped and color modified) and is used under a CC BY-SA 4.0 License.

    Figure 12.10 Liujiang cave skull-a. Homo Sapiens 68,000 Years Old (Taken at the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum) by Ryan Somma from Occoquan, USA has been modified (color modified) and is used under a CC BY-SA 2.0 License.

    Figure 12.11 Zhoukoudian Upper Cave by Mutt is used under a CC BY-SA 4.0 License.

    Figure 12.12 Kow Swamp1-Homo sapiens by Ryan Somma from Occoquan, USA, under a CC BY-SA 2.0 License has been modified (background cleaned and color modified) and is available here under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.

    Figure 12.13 Oase 2 by Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History [exhibit: Human Evolution Evidence, Human Fossils] has no known copyright restrictions and has been modified (sharpened) and is available here under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.

    Figure 12.14 Cro-Magnon 1 Skull by ©BoneClones is used by permission and available here under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.

    Figure 12.15 Předmostí 9 by J. Matiegka (1862-1941) is in the public domain and has been modified (sharpened) and is available here under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.

    Figure 12.16 La station quaternaire de Raymonden (…)Hardy Michel bpt6k5567846s (2) by M. Féauxis [original by Michel Hardy (1891)] is in the public domain.

    Figure 12.17 Lascaux cave (document 108435) Prehitoric Sites and Decorated Caves of the Vézère Valley (France) by Francesco Bandarin, © UNESCO, has been modified (color modified) and is used under a CC BY-SA 3.0 License.

    Figure 12.18 Current Estimates of Arhcaic-Modern Admixture original to Explorations: An Open Invitation to Biological Anthropology by Keith Chan and Katie Nelson is under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.

    Figure 12.19 BBC-shell-beads by Chenshilwood (Chris Henshilbood & Francesco d’Errico) at English Wikipedia is used under a CC BY-SA 3.0 License.

    Figure 12.20 Woolly Mammoth (La Brea Tar Pits & Museum) by Keith Chan is under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.

    Figure 12.21 Fig 9. Paijan-like projectile point of rhyolite recovered from a late Pleistocene level at the CH-I site (Unit 6, Level 51 cm; see S6a Fig) by Dillehay et al. (2015). New Archaeological Evidence for an Early Human Presence at Monte Verde, Chile. PLOS ONE, 10(11), e0141923. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0141923 is used under a CC BY 4.0 License.

    Figure 12.22 Clovis Point (15.2012.25) by Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History [Department of Anthropology; Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum] has no known copyright restrictions.

    Figure 12.23 Assimilation Model original to Explorations: An Open Invitation to Biological Anthropology by Keith Chan and Katie Nelson is under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.

    Figure 12.24 Image from video game FarCry Primal by Keith Chan is under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.

    Figure 12.25 San hunter wıth bow and arrow by Charles Roffey has been modified (color modified) and is used under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 License.

    Figure 12.26 Plowing muddy field using cattle by IRRI Photos (International Rice Research Institute) has been modified (color modified) and is used under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 License.

    Figure 12.27 Centres of origin and spread of agriculture by Joe Roe is used under a CC BY-SA 3.0 License.

    Figure 12.28 Downtown San Diego (October 13, 2016) by Keith Chan is under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.

    Figure 12.29 Combine CR9060 by Hertzsprung is used under a CC BY-SA 3.0 License.

    Figure 12.30 Hypothetical image of future human evolution original to Explorations: An Open Invitation to Biological Anthropology by Mary Nelson is under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.

    This page titled 12: Modern Homo sapiens is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Beth Shook, Katie Nelson, Kelsie Aguilera, & Lara Braff, Eds. (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.