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Homo Sapiens: The first modern humans

Homo Sapiens: The first modern humans

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True or false? Homo sapiens was the only human species on earth 200,000 years ago.

Homo Sapiens: The first modern humans

We are in Africa, 200,000 years ago. Under the acacia tree, there's a group of Homo erectus butchering an antelope. But, what's going on? Someone is coming? How different they look!

Homo erectus leave their antelope and run away. The new arrivals look pleased: a lot of meat! Oh, Homo erectus forgot their stone knife. The new ones don't look that impressed. They brought their own, a better one, which they use to cut the antelope.

One of them has an ember wrapped up in a package of bark. They collect dry grass and branches, and light a fire, on which they grill the antelope. Who are these upstarts that are stealing Homo erectus’ newly caught antelope? We have just met a new species of human: Homo sapiens! They look just like us!

If you were to meet one of these antelope-thieves at your bus station, you probably wouldn't notice anything strange at all. Their bodies and their anatomy are just like modern humans. Homo sapiens’ brains are now as large as yours and your friends' brains. At this time, 200,000 years ago, Homo sapiens isn't the only species of human on earth. There are at least four other contemporary species.

Homo sapiens means the ‘wise human’. It is the human species you and all other modern humans belong to. No one knows exactly which pre-human Homo sapiens evolved from. The oldest traces we have are bones, crania and stone tools from an early Homo sapiens. They lived and died over 300,000 years ago, in a place named Jebel Irhou, in present day Morocco.

At this time Homo sapiens were already anatomically modern humans, but their brains continued to develop for a while longer. A lot happens with the brain during the pre-humans’ seven million year long development from apes. The brain size tripled. During the period 800,000 to 200,000 years ago, the climate changes a lot, and often. It becomes cold, it becomes warm, and it becomes cold again.

It is during this period of time, the brain develops most. The pre-humans often need to adjust to survive. The ones with large brains are better able to adjust and have the best chance of survival. Evolution will benefit these individuals who have large brains. Northern Africa, in today's Egypt, 70,000 years ago.

Here is a family of Homo sapiens. They are tired, hungry, and sad. They hunted a buffalo for four days, but this time they have given up, the buffalo has horned a hunter to death. They bury him in a crevice. He was a good hunter so they let him keep his spear.

Maybe he will need it, if there’s an afterlife? His daughter has made a necklace of shells, which she hangs around his neck. A woman in the group lights a fire. They gather around the fire and put some clams and fish on the coals. It warms them.

The group has noticed that every year that passes it gets colder and it’s harder to find food. They decide to change hunting grounds and move on. This group will roam from Africa to what is now called the Arabian Peninsula. Small groups of Homo sapiens have left Africa before, at different times. But during the period 70,000 to 60,000 years ago, the numbers increase.

This migration out of Africa leads to the spread of the species Homo sapiens all over the world. It most probably also leads to the end of the other pre-human species on earth.