Rethinking “Out of Africa”

Christopher Stringer in Edge:

Stringer630At the moment, I'm looking again at the whole question of a recent African origin for modern humans—the leading idea over the last 20 years. This argues that we had a recent African origin, that we came out of Africa, and that we replaced all of the other human forms that were outside of Africa. But we're having to re-evaluate that now because genetic data suggest that the modern humans who came out of Africa about 60,000 years ago probably interbred with Neanderthals, first of all, and then some of them later on interbred with another group of people called the Denisovans, over in south eastern Asia. If this is so, then we are not purely of recent African origin. We're mostly of recent African origin, but there was contact with these other so-called species. We're having to re-evaluate the Out-of-Africa theory, and we're having to re-evaluate the species concepts we apply, because in one view of thinking, species should be self-contained units. They don't interbreed with other species. However, for me, the whole idea of Neanderthals as a different species is really a recognition of their separate evolutionary history—the fact that we can show that they evolved through time in a particular direction, distinct from modern humans, and they separated maybe 400,000 years ago from our lineage. And morphologically we can distinguish a relatively complete Neanderthal fossil from any recent human.