Museum

TUKUL 3: Palaeoanthropology

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From Homo erectus to Homo sapiens

The origins of modern humans


Presently there are two contrasting hypotheses regarding the origins of modern humans, i.e., Homo sapiens sapiens. The first hypothesis, known as the "replacement theory" or the "African Eve" assumes that modern humans differentiated in Africa and, starting from their African cradle, replaced the autochthonous population in Asia and Europe (the Neanderthals). The second hypothesis, known as the "continuity hypothesis", assumes that evolved forms of Homo erectus, in the different regions of the Old World, gradually transformed into Homo sapiens.

According to this hypothesis Homo sapiens derives from the gradual species of Homo erectus.
Around 200,000 years ago, in Ethiopia it is possible to observe the appearance of the oldest Homo sapiens sapiens from evolved forms of Homo erectus, such as, for example, the fossils of Gombore II (about 800,000 years ago) and Bodo (600,000 years ago): these are the Omo I and Omo II skulls. Outside Africa, Homo sapiens sapiens is certainly known around 100,000 years ago in the Near East with the fossils of Qafzeh and Skhul, and in Europe and China, around 35,000 years ago, with the Cro-Magnon.


Bodo

The oldest Homo sapiens sapiens from Ethiopia


The fossil skulls known as Omo I and II come from the Kibish Formation (200,000/100,000 years ago) in the Omo Valley.

Notwithstanding the presence of some archaic features, such as the thickness of the cranial walls, the appearance of modern anatomical features, the elevated frontal and the presence on the mandible of Omo I of a real bony chin, allow them to be considered, without doubt, close to Homo sapiens sapiens.


Omo II

The oldest Homo sapiens sapiens in Southern Africa

The fossil remains of Klasies River Mouth, discovered in a cave of the Cape Province in levels referable to the Middle Stone Age, probably date to about 80,000 years ago. The way of life of these Homo sapiens sapiens was based on hunting and fishing. The site of Florisbad is located in the Orange State (South Africa). An early Homo sapiens sapiens, whose absolute dates are between 49,000 and 38,500 years ago, was discovered here in 1932. This is an incomplete skull, but its morphology allows to consider it close to Homo sapiens sapiens.

The oldest Homo sapiens sapiens of the Near East


Qafzeh 9


The fossils of Skhul and Qafzeh were found during excavations carried out in the ’30s. In the site of Skhul, on Mount Carmel (Israel), 10 skeletons associated with Mousterian lithic industry were discovered. There are 7 adults and 3 children: the fossils of Skhul 4 and Skhul 5 are the better known ones.

In the site of Qafzeh, near the city of Nazareth, 27 individuals were discovered, all associated with a Mousterian lithic industry. The fossils of Skhul and Qafzeh belong to modern humans. Thanks to Thermoluminescence and Electron Spin Resonance dating methods, the age of these fossils is well established at about 100,000 years ago.

The oldest Homo sapiens sapiens in Europe

The oldest fossils of European Homo sapiens sapiens are the Cro-Magnon. Their cranial architecture can be compared to robust modern individuals. The cranial capacity of these fossils is large; the height of the vault falls within the lower part of the variability range of modern humans.The frontal region is straight, the face is not prognathic. The orbits are quadrangular and the supra-orbital ridges are not pronounced. In its posterior view, the skull presents a "house" shape, with high and pronounced parietals as in all representatives of Homo sapiens sapiens.

The oldest Homo sapiens sapiens in China

In the upper level of the site of Zhoukoudian in China, 40 Km south-west of Beijing, two fossils attributed to Homo sapiens sapiens were  excavated.  Zhoukoudian 1 is a male individual, while Zhoukoudian 2 is a female, with more gracile features than the first one. These fossils present some features that can be observed in the modern Chinese population and actually can be considered the ancestors of the modern populations.


Homo sapiens sapiens

 

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