In this article, Peter Spinks discusses how evidence may change the details of the ‘Out of Africa’ hypothesis. This is the hypothesis stating that our modern human ancestors roamed from Africa to other parts of the world nearly 60,000 years ago. However, teeth of early modern humans found in China and south-east Asia suggest that modern humans may have left Africa as early as 130,000 years ago. The research team responsible for the find was led by anthropologist Christopher Bae, who says that this evidence indicates that “the human evolutionary record… is more complicated than originally believed.”
Spinks highlights that although the find has caused some confusion in the ‘Out of Africa’ hypothesis, it also makes clear details regarding migration. For example, it gives more information regarding where humans initially went after migrating from Africa. It is now believed that humans travelled along the Arabian Peninsula before reaching south-east Asia, while a second group later dispersed into north-west Asia, moving into Europe and eventually to the Americas. This forces revision of the hypothesis as a whole, which Spinks paints as a positive situation, as it encourages change due to evidence found.
This evidence opens many new ideas regarding numerous migrations from Africa and encourages rethinking of existing timelines. It is believed that many cultural and technological advancements occurred in southern Africa between 55,000 and 75,000 years ago, making it easier for modern humans to survive in unfamiliar environments. Earlier studies uncovering Palaeolithic stone tools dating back to 125,000 years ago in the United Arab Emirates similar to those in east Africa support theories that early modern humans moved into Arabia straight from Africa instead of via the Nile as typically assumed. This suggests that modern human ancestors were fairly advanced in their ability to adapt to new environments and successfully migrate across continents.
Spinks’ goal is to present the evidence found to his audience in the context of what it means to evolutionary theory and the migration patterns of modern human ancestors. He presents factual information with analysis from experts in order to strengthen his argument: that “the textbook version of [human migration] almost certainly needs re-writing.”
But is his assessment correct? The teeth found in Asia provide new evidence, but what does it mean for evolutionary theory? Is this enough evidence to change and strengthen ideas regarding modern human evolution, giving more context to human migration? Or does it complicate and weaken evolutionary theory?