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Stringer_ProcRoySoc2002

Stringer_ProcRoySoc2002 - Received 6 December 2001 Accepted...

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Received 6 December 2001 Accepted 18 December 2001 Published online 9 April 2002 Modern human origins: progress and prospects Chris Stringer Department of Palaeontology, The Natural History Museum, London SW7 5BD, UK ( [email protected] ) The question of the mode of origin of modern humans ( Homo sapiens ) has dominated palaeoanthropologi- cal debate over the last decade. This review discusses the main models proposed to explain modern human origins, and examines relevant fossil evidence from Eurasia, Africa and Australasia. Archaeological and genetic data are also discussed, as well as problems with the concept of ‘modernity’ itself. It is concluded that a recent African origin can be supported for H. sapiens , morphologically, behaviourally and genetically, but that more evidence will be needed, both from Africa and elsewhere, before an absolute African origin for our species and its behavioural characteristics can be established and explained. Keywords: Homo sapiens ; evolution; Pleistocene; modern human; Neanderthal; DNA; Palaeolithic 1. INTRODUCTION Over the past ten years, one topic has dominated palaeo- anthropological debate—the origin of ‘modern’ humans. While it is generally agreed that Africa was the evolution- ary homeland of Pliocene hominins (such as Australopithecus ) and the earliest humans (members of the genus Homo ), was it also the sole place of origin of our own species, Homo sapiens , during the Pleistocene (1.8– 0.012 Myr ago) (see Ž gure 1)? Originally centred on the fossil record, the debate has more recently drawn on archaeological and genetic data. The latter have become increasingly signiŽ cant, and now even include DNA from Neanderthal fossils. Yet, despite the growth of such data, and the availability of increasingly sophisticated methods of analysis, there is still a perception in some quarters that the debate about modern human origins is sterile and as far from resolution as ever. In this review, I wish to discuss the impact of recent discoveries and analyses, and give my own perspective on the current debate, as well as dis- cussing possible future progress. I hope to show that there are rich and stimulating differences of opinion and approach, even within the polarized factions that have grown up during the current vigorous debate, and that further exciting developments are imminent. As discussed later, there is no agreement about the num- ber of human species that have existed during the Pleisto- cene. For some workers there may have been only one— H. sapiens (e.g. Hawks et al. 2000 a )—while for others, there 2000). My preference lies between these extremes, and for the rest of this paper I will recognize and use four species names: H. erectus , its probable descendant H. heidelbergensis , and two probable descendant species of H. heidelbergensis : H. neanderthalensis and H. sapiens. First, I will concentrate on the fossil records of Africa and
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Stringer_ProcRoySoc2002 - Received 6 December 2001 Accepted...

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