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6.14: Anatomically Modern Homo sapiens

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  • The phrase "anatomically modern Homo sapiens" is the scientific consensus for the group of hominid skeletons that everyone agrees to call "us".

    Out of Africa vs. Regional Continuity Model

    Chris Stringer Talk, first 18 minutes: What is the Coalescent African Origins model?

    This is the end of paleoanthropology section. It brings us up to what most scientists agree is all the same species as what we are now, with no significant biological differences. There are obviously cultural differences, and you can study those if you take the Introduction to Archaeology class, but when scientists say "anatomically modern", they are saying that these hominids are biologically the same as us, and excuse the science fiction scenario, but if you somehow extracted enough DNA from one of these anatomically modern Homo sapiens bones found around 100,000ya, cloned it, raised it in a typical family, he or she would end up an indistinguishable member of our society.

    When reading about the different models for recent human origins, you continually need to be asking yourself the question: "What is the evidence that supports this model?" Get into the nitty-gritty details. Don't worry that there is conflicting evidence, that's OK, in fact, that's typical of science. We try to keep an open mind and see both sides of an issue; it's ok to hold multiple hypotheses. This is similar to the idea I mentioned the Anthropological Imagination where anthropologists are skeptical of unicausal explanations. More evidence comes from the DNA of at least three groups of Neandertals, and another coexisting group, the Denosovians.

    Even though this debate has been pretty much resolved, it is still a good example of the scientific process and complex and varied forms of evidence that anthropologists use to answer questions.


    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\) - Results from Arnie Schoenberg's Genographic test

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    Skim Dennis O'Neil on the origins of modern humans

    Watch Svante Pääbo talk about Neandertal DNA

    We are still debating how much genetic material the regional continuity of hominids contributing to our modern DNA, but we don't think it's very much. We mostly come from Africa very recently. The genetic evidence points to a bottleneck event between around 50,000 to 100,000 years ago for everyone who left Africa. Genetic Drift made all non-Africans extremely homogeneous.

    Upper Paleolithic Revolution

    To get a sense of the Upper Paleolithic revolution try taking some of the virtual tours available for the cave art, e.g. Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc Cave. Also, compare the Lower Paleolithic and Middle Paleolithic to the Upper Paleolithic. Count how many years it takes for people to invent a way of making stone tools so different from before that it justifies a new name for the assemblage.


    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\) -

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{2}\)

    Watch the movie: Cave of Forgotten Dreams Werner Herzog, 2010:

    • An author searches for the origin of consciousness
    • Cave painting in Indonesia
    • This course really stops at the Upper Paleolithic, and you would normally take an archaeology class to learn about more recent humans:
    • Ötzi the Iceman (5,000 ya in the alps)
    • An update on Kennewick Man (9,000 ya in Washington state)