The New History of Humanity

Amid competing models of human evolution, a more complex story of our species emerges.

How well do we know ourselves? The fossil record of hominins, our ancestors and closest kin, is limited, and the exploration of our collective deep history through genetic analysis is still a relatively new field. Neither excavations nor lab work has been able to reconstruct, definitively, the earliest chapter of the Homo sapiens story.

For decades, two competing models of human evolution have dominated the field. One claims that H. sapiens evolved in a single place, Africa, and left that continent only fairly recently; the other suggests that our species evolved in multiple regions across both Africa and Eurasia.

While debate between proponents of the two models rages on, there’s one big problem: Researchers keep finding fossil and genomic evidence that don’t fit either model.

A paleoanthropological review published in Science in December acknowledged that the evidence had reached a tipping point. It’s time, the authors said, for a new model of how our species evolved and spread across the world. But how does this new model compare with its predecessors?

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