The Earth Through Time, 8e

Eighth Edition
by Harold L. Levin

Chapter 17 - page 6

Human Origins

Pamela J. W. Gore
Georgia Perimeter College

The Appearance of Homo sapiens

The Earliest Humans

Fossil evidence from along the Omo River in southern Ethiopia shows that modern humans, Homo sapiens sapiens, with the large brain case, forehead, and prominent chin, lived in Africa as much as 195,000 years ago, according to an article published in February 2005. Previously, modern humans were thought to have appeared in Africa about 160,000 years ago.

Humans appeared in Africa many thousands of years before our species appeared on any other continent.

There appears to have been a time gap between the appearance of the modern human skeleton and modern types of behavior resulting in cultural artifacts.

Stone knife blades appeared between 50,000 and 200,000 years ago. Other types of cultural artifacts, however, appeared just 50,000 years ago.

Humans left Africa between about 40,000 and 50,000 years ago, and appear to have taken culture with them, including things such as bone carving, tools such as harpoons, jewelry and ornamentation, artwork, and arrowheads.


About 34,000 years ago during a glacial advance, humans closely resembling modern Europeans moved into the area occupied by the Neandertals, and eventually replaced them. They are Homo sapiens, and are called Cro-Magnon.

Characteristics of Cro-Magnon:

  1. Mostly taller than Neandertals
  2. More vertical forehead
  3. Jutting chin

Continued cultural traditions of the Neandertals - manufactured a greater variety of stone tools, painted pictures of animals in caves, carved and sculpted images of women and animals from bone or ivory, made and wore jewelry, elaborately buried their dead (such as burying hunters with their weapons). Developed art and complex rituals. Hunted and gathered edible plants.

Beginnings of Recorded History

About 15,000 -10,000 years ago, humans began to:

  1. Domesticate animals
  2. Cultivate plants
  3. Produce more highly developed tools
  4. Make utensils of fired clay
  5. Develop permanent settlements
  6. Use language
  7. Develop writing

With the development of writing, the era of recorded history began.

Humans Arrive in the Americas

Humans in the Americas are called Paleoindians.

It is not definitely known when the first human set foot in America. The traditional view is that humans arrived in the Americas from Asia, crossing the Bering Land Bridge between Asia and Alaska between 10,000 and 25,000 years ago (to perhaps 30,000 years or more), during a glaciation which lowered sea levels. Humans may have followed migrating herds of mammals.

Opinion is divided over whether the migrating groups of Paleoindians would have traveled on foot or by boat. If traveling by boat, they may have followed the coastline, or crossed the open Pacific.

Stone tools of the Clovis culture, about 12,000 years old, are known from Alaska to South America. Pre-Clovis dates are viewed with skepticism by some, but there are a number of reports of human activity dated at several thousand years earlier.

Evidence for the earlier arrival of humans in the Americas includes:

  1. Pre-Clovis remains in South America near Monte Verde, Chile dated at 12,500 years old include hut foundations and building materials, hearths with burned animal remains, and stone tools.
  2. Charred human remains from Washington State dated at 11,500 to 13,000 years old.
  3. Stone weapon points and tools in the Meadowcroft Rockshelter in western Pennsylvania that appear to be 14,250 to 19,600 years old.
  4. A human skull unearthed near Laguna Beach, California dated to between 15,680 and 18,620 years old.
  5. Stone tools in soils dated at 16,000 years old or more in Allendale County, SC along the Savannah River.
  6. Artifacts in a sand dune along the Nottoway River at Cactus Hill, Virginia at least 15,000 years old.
  7. An obsidian blade found under a 23,000 year old log in Mexico.
  8. Fire pits in Nevada, dated at 24,000 years old.
  9. Cooked mammoth bones in a campfire on Santa Rosa Island off the coast of California, dated at 28,000 years ago.
  10. Crude stone tools in California that may be around 30,000 years old.

Other evidence for early arrival:

  1. Mitochondrial DNA studies of Native Americans relating molecular divergence and population splits suggesting 20,000 to 36,000 years
  2. Linguistic analysis of Native American language diversity suggesting an arrival time of 35,000 years ago.

Much of the pre-Clovis evidence is still somewhat controversial.

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Document created by: Pamela J. W. Gore
Georgia Perimeter College, Clarkston, GA

March 7, 2006