Modern life is too long

homo sapiens The evolution of modern man


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Modern man originated in Africa. This is considered certain, but many details of the development of Homo sapiens are still unclear. Just like the question of when and how did Homo sapiens move from Africa to Asia and Europe.

Status: 11/30/2020

The oldest evidence of Homo sapiens in Africa to date is a sensation: It dates early Homo sapiens bones from Jebel Irhoud in Morocco to an age of around 300,000 years. Until 2017, it was assumed that modern humans did not spread across the continent from East Africa until 100,000 years later.

Many kinds of people at the same time

The development of modern man today can be less than pedigreebut rather as "Trunk bushSeveral types of people lived at the same time: At the same time as the early Homo sapiens in Africa, the Neanderthals lived in Europe, the Denisova humans in Siberia and the Homo naledi in South Africa. Also the Homo heidelbergensis, the ancestor of the Neanderthals, whose remains near Heidelberg were found roaming around at the same time as Homo sapiens.

Genus Homo: modern man and his relatives

Skulls of Australopithecus (left) and Homo habilis (right)

In paleontology, the term homo or. Hominini used for the genus within the great apes to which we, Homo sapiens, belong and our closest relatives, all of which are extinct. By the way, an important common physical characteristic of all hominini can be found in the teeth. All members of the genus Homo have six or seven cusps on their back molars. Their ancestors, the australopithecines, were even less so.

The oldest representatives of the genus Homo

The oldest representatives of the genus Homo were Homo rudolfensis (2.5 to 1.9 million years ago) and Homo habilis (2.1 to 1.5 million years ago). Homo erectus lived around 2 million years ago. After Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis emerged (700,000 to 300,000 years ago). There was also the Homo naledi in South Africa (335,000 to 236,000 years ago).

Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neanderthalensis, Homo denisova

Homo heidelbergensis, which emerged from Homo erectus, is the ancestor of Homo neanderthalensis (lived at least 130,000 to 40,000 years ago) and probably also of Homo denisova (extinct 30,000 to 14,500 years ago). Homo sapiens (for around 300,000 years) and the Neanderthals also share a common ancestor. When exactly the lines separated is not clear, there are fossil indications of a point in time at least 430,000 years ago.
A particular relative of Homo sapiens is Homo floresiensis (lived around 60,000 to 100,000 years ago, maybe even 600,000 years ago), possibly a small descendant of Homo erectus or Homo habilis.

"The evolution of humans was not a linear process where one species developed into the next. It is more of a complex family tree where species overlap in time and space."

Jean-Jacques Hublin, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig

Homo sapiens used to look like us

With the help of 22 fossilized remains of bones, skulls, jaws and teeth that were found in Jebel Irhoud in Morocco, the international team of researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig can get an idea of ​​this early Homo sapiens.

The scientists assume that the face and teeth of early Homo sapiens were very similar to us. The back of the head, on the other hand, was much longer and more reminiscent of older representatives of the homo genus. "This means that the shape of the facial bones developed at the beginning of the evolution of our species," concludes Philipp Gunz, co-author of the study. The shape of the brain, on the other hand, and possibly also its function, only changed during later development.

"These new bones show us how the evolutionary process to anatomically modern humans happened. It was not a rapid and sudden development, but rather a slow, gradual process. The brain area in particular has only changed significantly in the past 300,000 years."

Jean-Jacques Hublin, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig

The Out of Africa Theory

Many researchers today assume that Homo sapiens spread across the world in several waves of emigration from Africa. There are several possible routes. According to a study from June 2017, researchers from Tübingen assume that the most plausible option was the route across the Arabian Peninsula towards Asia, the so-called "southern route".

"Both the anatomical comparisons of the skulls and the genetic data speak in favor of multiple waves of emigration."

Prof. Katerina Harvati-Papatheodorou, Institute for Scientific Archeology, University of Tübingen

Several waves of emigration of Homo sapiens

The southern route goes over the Arabian Peninsula to Asia.

A first group of our ancestors set out from Africa around 130,000 years ago and migrated along the coast of the Arabian Peninsula to Australia and the western Pacific region (green arrow). According to their investigations, a second wave of propagation into northern Eurasia took place around 50,000 years ago (red arrow). Previous studies have assumed a single migratory movement 50,000 to 75,000 years ago, across the Red Sea to the Arabian Peninsula.

Other findings speak in favor of the southern route: For example, the Red Sea on the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait could have been crossed with relatively simple rafts at that time, especially when the sea level was low.

First Homo sapiens in Central Europe

An evaluation of fossils from the Bacho Kiro Cave in Bulgaria in May 2020 showed that the earliest Homo sapiens were at home in the middle latitudes of Europe around 45,000 years ago. A team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig evaluated finds, animal bones, stones and human bone fragments in the cave.

"The extensive collection of bone tools and personal jewelry is particularly noteworthy."

Dr. Geoff Smith, zoo archaeologist, MPI Leipzig

Homo sapiens and Neanderthals

The researchers assume that Homo sapiens influenced the Neanderthals since then. For a long time it was assumed that this would only begin around 8,000 years later. A 2015 find in Israel also shows a very early colonization of Eurasia by Homo sapiens. The top of an approximately 55,000 year old skull was found in a cave near the village of Manot in northern Israel. Depending on whether Homo sapiens came to Europe over the Levant 70,000 or 50,000 years ago, the ancestors of "Manot" may have lived in the region thousands of years before him.

"Manot" is about 10,000 years older than the remains of modern humans that have so far been found in Europe.

Did Homo sapiens come to Europe earlier?

A find from Greece in June 2017 even indicates that a representative of Homo sapiens could have arrived in Europe much earlier: 210,000 years ago. In the Apidima cave complex, two fossil skull fragments have been examined more closely. The researchers from Tübingen assigned one of the skulls to Homo sapiens. Previously, it was assumed that it, like the second skull, belonged to the Neanderthal. So far, however, it has not been possible to evaluate any DNA traces that could confirm this.

Neanderthals died out, Homo sapiens prevailed

Why the Neanderthals ultimately died out in Europe has not yet been clarified. Also not whether this has anything to do with the fact that he met Homo sapiens. All in all, the Neanderthals just seem to have been poorly equipped for survival and to have hit a dead end. Modern humans, on the other hand, got into the fast lane of evolution: Homo sapiens spread rapidly across Eurasia and influenced the Neanderthals and Denisovans. At times he mingled with his distant relatives. Until he finally replaced her.

Studies: How Man Became Man

Orrorin tugenensis - "Millennium Man" from Kenya

Orrorin tugenensis is an extinct great ape that was found in Kenya six million years ago. This is proven by the examination of a well-preserved thigh bone. Because of its discovery in 2000, the great ape is also known as the "Millennium Man". There Orrorin tugenensis could already walk upright, his discoverers put him in the series of the genus Hominini posed. Researchers currently believe that O. tugenensis although he still climbed trees, on the ground he mainly moved on two legs. Modern man, however, did not develop directly from it, as the discoverers initially assumed.

"Ardi" means "ground monkey"

The Ardipithecus, "Ardi" for short, is around 4.4 million years old and has long been considered the oldest direct human predecessor. His bones show that our early ancestors were less ape-like than previously thought. "Ardi" was about 1.20 meters tall and weighed around 50 kilograms. Hands, feet and pelvis indicate that he was climbing trees, but also walking on the ground on two legs. Its brain was still as small as that of a modern chimpanzee, but the base of the skull already resembled that of later pre-humans.

Australopithecus - the "ape man"

After this Ardipithecus came the Australopithecus. The Australopithecines were about four feet tall, covered with fur, and initially pure vegetarians. Their brains were about the size of today's chimpanzees. When the climate in East Africa changed, a branch of the delicate australopithecen developed into robust nutcrackers. But the menu, which was one-sidedly geared towards hard-fiber plants, was a dead end: when the climate changed again 1.2 million years ago, this branch died out. Only those who had blossomed into omnivores in time were crisis-proof. The genus Homo later emerged from them.

A face for Australopithecus anamensis

There were several types of australopithecins, some of which overlapped and some of which lived one after the other. Australopithecus anamensis is the oldest of them. There is an extraordinary find of him, an almost complete skull fossil, which could now be clearly assigned to this species and whose face has been reproduced on the computer.

According to researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Anthropology in August 2019, its age of 3.8 million years proves that A.anamensis around 100,000 years together with the younger one A. afarensis lived. The famous fossil find "Lucy" belongs to the species A. afarensis. That would mean that the human family tree may need to be rewritten. So far it has been assumed that the younger species emerged from the older one, which then became extinct.

Australopithecus sediba - the hybrid creature

In 2008, around two million year old fossils were discovered in South Africa Australopithecus sediba discovered. It has characteristics of both australopithecines and later human species. Sedibas upper rib cage was tight and allowed the scapula movements necessary for climbing. The pelvis, hands, and teeth resembled human relatives. It is possible that Sediba does not originate from the East African Australopithecus afarensis line, but forms with it Australopithecus africanus a South African sister group. Peter Schmid from the University of Zurich says: "The numerous similarities with Homo erectus suggest that Sediba represents the most suitable preform of the genus Homo. "

Genus Homo older than expected

Early humans of the species homo could have lived 2.8 million years ago according to recent analyzes. This would make them 400,000 years older than previously assumed. In 2013 the bone fragment of a lower jaw was found, which consists of a left half of the lower jaw with five teeth. The shape of the jaw and the teeth suggests that it is already a representative of the genus homo acts. The researchers do not know what early humans looked like. What is clear is that he walked on two legs and lived in a grassland with bushes and forests. The researchers do not know whether early man was a hunter and ate meat, because the earliest tools found so far are 2.6 million years old. It is also unknown whether he was able to make a fire or build houses.

Homo habilis - the skillful East African

Homo habilis lived in the east of Africa 1.8 to 1.4 million years ago. With a volume of 650 cubic centimeters, his brain is almost half the size of our brain. His fingers still resemble those of a chimpanzee, but his thumb is comparable to that of modern humans. But whether he really is to the Hominids is to be counted or actually still one Australopithecus is controversial to this day.

Homo rudolfensis

The one about 1.50 meters tall Homo rudolfensis is considered to be the oldest clearly human being. There is evidence that he lived and made tools from 2.5 to 1.8 million years ago. At first he probably only slit open hard shells with the sharp-edged stones. Later he also used them to cut dead animals into bite-sized bites.

Homo erectus

The Homo erectus occurred about two million years ago. Cooled by sweat glands, he was already a persistent runner. Because it no longer had fur, it was probably pigmented dark to protect from the sun.

Homo erectus - first big game hunter

The Homo erectus is also considered to be the first big game hunter. People have been hunting in groups for 1.2 million years at the latest, and for that reason alone no longer have to fear opponents. Because his sweat glands kept him cool, he could also be active in the heat of the day. With this he outsmarted the big fur animals that were resting at this time - and then either became victims themselves or at least were robbed of their prey.

Homo erectus - brain wax

The Homo erectus brought it to a brain volume of 950 cubic centimeters - twice as much as the australopithecines. The brain could not have grown that fast with plant-based foods alone. The digestive system also had to rely on the high-energy meat Homo erectus set: He already had the small, short colon of today's man.

Homo heidelbergensis

From the Homo erectus went about 600,000 to 200,000 years ago Homo heidelbergensis emerge. This type was named after the place where it was found: Wall near Heidelberg. The fossil lower jaw was discovered there in 1907. About 300,000 to 150,000 years ago, the climate in Europe was characterized by an alternation between short warm and long ice ages. Especially in the cold phases that was Homo heidelbergensis separated from its kind in Asia and Africa. In Europe around this time he developed into his own human form: the Neanderthals.
At the beginning of December 2013, researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig reported another family relationship: They deciphered the genome of someone around 400,000 years old Homo heidelbergensisfound in a northern Spanish cave. According to the analysis, he is with the Denisova people who lived in Asia around 30,000 to 80,000 years ago. Scientists conclude that the Homo heidelbergensis a common ancestor with the around 700,000 years ago Denisova people have had. The genetic proximity between the Homini from northern Spain and the Denisova people be even bigger than that too Neanderthals. Further studies aim to establish the relationship between the Hominins from northern Spain, the Denisova people and the Neanderthals clarify.


More than 200,000 years ago, the Neanderthals developed: parallel to homo sapiens in Africa, from a common African ancestor of the genus homo. Investigations of the fossil Neanderthal bones and teeth allow exciting conclusions: Under the microscope, some bones showed holes in the bone substance. These form when an injured bone is no longer properly loaded but is still alive. An indication that Neanderthals cared for their wounded - many even appear to have survived severe fractures. In contrast, researchers rarely find tumors in fossils. Mainly because our ancestors died much younger than we do today. US researchers from Philadelphia have now recognized a benign tumor in the rib of a 120,000-year-old Neanderthal man.

Neanderthal special tools

The Neanderthals may have created the first specialized bone tools in Europe.Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and the University of Leiden in the Netherlands have discovered special tools made of bones in two Palaeolithic excavation sites in southwest France: They were made from the ribs of red deer and are similar to so-called lissoirs - grinding devices that are still used today used by leather.

For Shannon McPherron from the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, the tools prove that the Neanderthals possessed a technology previously ascribed to modern man. Modern humans may even have learned from them.

First cave art

Neanderthals probably also used their tools to create works of art. Scientists found cruciform notches in a cave in Gibraltar that are almost 40,000 years old. For a long time, cave art was only given to modern humans (homo sapiens) attributed. At that time, however, it had not yet arrived in the area.

In February 2018 it was also announced that 64,000-year-old cave paintings from three Spanish caves were found in the Neanderthals must be attributed. The age could be determined from the salt crusts of the color pigments. The Neanderthals have also left the outlines of a hand in the caves, another sign of equality with homo sapiens.

Neanderthal reproduction

It is known from several studies that people who live in Europe today have one to four percent Neanderthals- carry DNA. In February 2016, researchers from the MPI reported that Neanderthals and modern people probably had children together about 100,000 years ago. It was previously assumed that they could have mixed around 47,000 to 65,000 years ago. The scientists had one in the genome Neanderthals Traces of genetic material discovered by modern humans from the Altai Mountains in Central Asia. From the age of the examined bones and the nature of the genetic material, they concluded that the love affairs took place around 100,000 years ago. No such traces were found in the genetic make-up of the bones of two Neanderthals found in European caves. "That brings us to the conclusion that the mixing took place in Asia," says Martin Kuhlwilm from the MPI.

In 2020 the genome of modern Africans was compared with that of the Neanderthals compared and found similarities. So wear it Neanderthals-Gene in itself? It's unclear, but it doesn't mean that Neanderthals Ever been to Africa, there is no evidence of this, says paleontologist Svante Pääbo, who was not involved in the study. He can imagine that the gene flow was reversed that modern homo sapiens 100,000 years ago put their DNA into it NeanderthalsGenome and these gene sequences have been (re-) found in modern Africans who were infected by homo sapiens arrived.

Neanderthal reproduction II

Why was it that Neanderthals and homo sapiens no longer had offspring together despite some sexual relationships? The reason for this could be certain genetic make-up on the Y chromosome, the male sex chromosome Neanderthals-Being men. Paleontologist Fernando Mendez from Stanford University (USA) and his international team of researchers think that the immune system of pregnant women can improve homo sapiens may have fought against male fetuses with these Neanderthal genes. The possible consequences: miscarriages and less viable or fertile offspring.

The study was published in April 2016 in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

Neanderthal reproduction III

A study from March 2018 also concluded that Neanderthals especially have propagated among each other. To this end, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig carried out genetic analyzes of bones and teeth. These came from five Neanderthals from today's Belgium, France, Croatia and the Russian Caucasus. They lived around 39,000 and 47,000 years ago and are among the late ones Neanderthals. All of them descended from a common ancestor who must have lived in Siberia around 150,000 years ago. The closer these Neanderthal groups lived together, the stronger the genetic intermingling. That's how they are Neanderthals from the Caucasus least related to those of the other countries. Genetic makeup of all five Neanderthals can also be found in today's gene pool Homo sapiensbut not the other way around. So there were few crosses between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens - and if so, genes were only directed towards the Homo sapiens transfer.

Neanderthal culture

The way in which discovered Neanderthal bones were arranged reveals something about their culture: in 1908 an almost completely preserved skeleton with bent legs was discovered in France. Researchers suspect that the deceased was buried. This suggests that primitive humans already developed rituals for emotions such as grief and had an idea of ​​the afterlife. The barium content of a child's tooth showed that that Neanderthals-Child was fully breastfed for a good seven months, then was given solid food for a while and was completely weaned at around one and a quarter years of age. Barium is found in high concentrations in breast milk, but is lower in solid foods. The chemical element is deposited in the body in the tooth enamel, among other things. The timing was made possible by the growth rings of the tooth. But it remains a mystery why Neanderthals disappeared from the scene around 30,000 to 40,000 years ago.

When exactly did the Neanderthal man disappear?

With a probability of 95.4 percent they are Neanderthals Disappeared from Europe 41,030 to 39,260 years ago. At least this is the result of the study by an international team of researchers led by Tom Higham from the University of Oxford in England in August 2014. The scientists determined this time period on the basis of almost 200 analysis data. Finds from around forty locations from Spain to Russia were evaluated.

Their results are more precise than earlier dates because they worked with an improved radiocarbon method using accelerator mass spectrometry. The possibilities have also been improved to remove modern impurities from prehistoric specimens. According to the study, inhabited Neanderthals and modern man shared the same parts of Europe for 2,600 to 5,400 years. Investigations of further samples from Europe are to follow.

Neanderthal diet

The diet of the Neanderthals was surprisingly versatile and also varied from region to region: large herbivorous animals such as horses, bison, mammoths or woolly rhinos were often on the menu. It is known from a cave in the Caucasus that Neanderthals also ate salmon, as was shown by Hervé Bocherens from the University of Tübingen and his colleagues in September 2013.

An analysis of old droppings in June 2014 gave a study by researchers led by Ainara Sistiaga from MIT in Cambridge evidence of plants as food in today's Spain.

The same thing is confirmed by a new study from March 2020: caves near what is now Lisbon were examined there. The Neanderthalswho lived there near the sea also fed on the sea: mussels, clams, brown spider crabs, sharks, eels, mullets, goose, cormorants, boobies, sea breams, dolphins and even seals were on the menu of the Neanderthals. There was also game from the country: deer, goats, horses or aurochs, but also small turtles. The researchers also found remains of olive trees, grapevines, figs and other typical Mediterranean plant species in the cave.

Denisova man

During an initial examination of the Denisova people In 2010, the researchers only analyzed the genetic information of the mitochondria in the bone cells of a finger bone from the Denisova cave. This is easier to isolate and decipher because it only consists of 16,500 building blocks, not three billion like the actual human DNA. In addition, there are 8,000 mitochondria in each cell - numerous copies that help reduce reading errors. The DNA of the mitochondria examined differed in 385 places from that of modern humans. Neanderthal mitochondria, on the other hand, only differ from ours in around 200 places. Those of chimpanzees to just under 1,500. A more detailed DNA analysis led the researchers to conclude: The Denisova man is its own prehistoric form, next to the Neanderthals but the closest relative of man. Since the find was found in a layer that is estimated to be between 30,000 and 50,000 years old, man must have lived at that time. Further research suggests that it was common in an area between Southeast Asia and Siberia.

Homo sapiens - Out of Africa

The oldest finds of the homo sapiens are around 300,000 years old according to a study from June 2017. From Africa he conquered the other continents: For this he took a southern route over the Arabian Peninsula in the direction of Asia probably more than 100,000 years ago. This was announced by the University of Tübingen in April 2014. In collaboration with researchers from the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment, the University of Ferrara in Italy and the National Museum of Natural History in France, the scientists examined various spreading scenarios, skull shapes and genetic information. "Both the anatomical comparisons of the skulls and the genetic data speak in favor of multiple waves of emigration," reports Katerina Harvati from the Institute for Scientific Archeology at the University of Tübingen.

A first group of our ancestors set out from Africa around 130,000 years ago and migrated along the coast of the Arabian Peninsula to Australia and the western Pacific region (green arrow). According to their investigations, a second wave of propagation into northern Eurasia took place around 50,000 years ago (red arrow). Previous studies have assumed a single migration movement between 50,000 and 75,000 years ago. The Tübingen researchers want to further secure their results through further field studies and advances in genetics.

Skull connects continents

Modern man arrived in Europe over 45,000 years ago. The time between leaving Africa and arriving in Europe was in the dark until the results of the investigation published in January 2015: The top of an approximately 55,000-year-old skull was found in a cave near the village of Manot in northern Israel. This fits in with the previously unknown phase of emigration. "Manot" is about 10,000 years older than the remains of all modern humans found in Europe, and lived 5,000 to 10,000 years after the time geneticists believe our direct ancestors to be in Africa.

In May 2020 it was also shown that Homo sapiens lived in what is now Bulgaria at least 45,000 years ago. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology have evaluated fossils from the Bacho Kiro Cave.

Cro-Magnon human

With the appearance of the European homo sapiens - after its place of discovery in France too Cro-Magnon human called - the tools are remarkably sophisticated. The ability to speak could also fall during this time. The brain is significantly larger, the skeleton more delicate: the skull is more rounded, the forehead higher, the chin more concise, there are no longer bulges above the eyes.

Homo sapiens in Asia

In 2003 the so-called Tianyuan man found, named after the find cave near Beijing. It is the Asian counterpart to the Cro-Magnon people. Investigations of the genome of the Tianyuan people show that the European and Asian lines of these early modern people must have separated more than 40,000 years ago. He lived for several millennia homo sapiens parallel to Neanderthals. In the end, the prevailed homo sapiens.

Or was it really different?

The discovery of a skull in Dmanissi in Georgia could contradict this early human biodiversity. It is 1.8 million years old and the most intact early human skull ever found. The combination of a small brain chamber, large teeth and an elongated face is also unique to date. The remains of four other early humans have been discovered, each of which was different in size but all lived at the same time. This diversity supports one of two theories about our early evolution: namely, that it was more like a tree than a bush. For years, some scientists have held the theory that humans evolved from only one or two species, like branches from a tree trunk. Others assume that there are several species of early humans, such as a bush with several side branches. Even supporters of this theory now say that the findings point to a single species of early humans in Georgia almost two million years ago. However, this does not allow the same conclusion for other places.
David Lordkipanidze, director of the National Museum of Georgia and lead author of the study, points out that "Danny DeVito, Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal" also belong to a species. It is likely that the skulls, mostly found as fragments in different places in Africa, did not come from different species, but were variations of one species. Further discoveries and research will show.

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