ISSN 1662-4009 (Online)

ESPE Yearbook of Paediatric Endocrinology (2019) 16 14.9 | DOI: 10.1530/ey.16.14.9

Did our species evolve in subdivided populations across Africa, and Why does it matter?

Eleanor M.L. Scerri, Mark G. Thomas, Andrea Manica, Philipp Gunz, Jay T. Stock, Chris Stringer, Matt Grove, Huw S. Groucutt, Axel Timmermann, G. Philip Rightmire, Francesco d’Errico, Christian A. Tryon, Nick A. Drake, Alison S. Brooks, Robin W. Dennell, Richard Durbin, Brenna M. Henn, Julia Lee-Thorp, Peter deMenocal, Michael D. Petraglia, Jessica C. Thompson, Aylwyn Scally & Lounès Chikhi

To read the full abstract: Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 2018. 33 (8); 582–594.

This opinion piece argues that Homo sapiens evolved within interlinked groups living across Africa, and not in a single region of East Africa. Millennia of separation gave rise to diversity of human forms, and a complex mix of archaic and modern features in different places and at different times over the last 300,000 years ultimately shaped our species.

The view that Homo sapiens evolved from a single region/population within Africa has long been given primacy in studies of human evolution. However, evidence from several research fields is no longer consistent with this view. Instead, our human ancestors were dispersed throughout Africa, and were kept apart by diverse and shifting habitats, such as forests and deserts. Millennia of separation gave rise to a staggering diversity of human forms.

Many of the inhospitable regions in Africa today, such as the Sahara desert, were once wet and green, with interwoven networks of lakes and rivers, and abundant wildlife. Similarly, some tropical regions that are humid and green today were once arid, meaning that human populations would have gone through many cycles of isolation through local adaptation followed by genetic and cultural mixing.

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