Genetic Chaos

Thursday, August 05, 2004

The Context of Human Genetic Evolution

The debate on modern human origins has often focused on the relationship between genes and fossils. Although more and more genetic evidence has been accumulating in favor of a recent African origin for modern humans, it has been assumed by many that the fossil evidence remains ambiguous. On the contrary, it has been clear for some time that the fossil evidence does not support the multiregional model: Fossils and archeology indicate a pattern of multiple dispersals from and beyond Africa, against which the genetic data can be compared. The continuing value of paleobiology is in complementing genetic information by revealing the context of human evolution: locating the dispersals and extinctions of populations in time and space, correlating these events with the environmental forces that shaped them, and providing an increasingly detailed understanding of the morphology and technology of early humans.

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Modern human origins: progress and prospects

The question of the mode of origin of modern humans (Homo sapiens) has dominated palaeoanthropological 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.

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