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Homo sapiens
Homo sapiens
Bradshaw Foundation Origins Archive
Homo sapiens are primates of the family Hominidae, and the only living species of the genus Homo. This section consists of Homo sapiens - Cro-Magnon who existed from approximately 200,000 to 30,000 years ago, and Homo sapiens sapiens - Modern Humans, from 30,000 years ago to the present day. The human lineage diverged from the last common ancestor with its closest living relative, the chimpanzee, some five million years ago, evolving into the Australopithecines and eventually the genus Homo. The first Homo species to move out of Africa was Homo erectus, and Homo ergaster [its African variety] together with Homo heidelbergensis, are considered to be the immediate ancestor of modern humans.
Homo sapiens
Genus: Homo
Species: Homo sapiens / sapiens sapiens
Other Names: Modern Humans
Time Period: Homo sapiens
200,000 - 50,000 years ago
Homo sapiens sapiens
50,000 years ago to Present
Characteristics: Modern, Migration, Art, More Gracile, Technological
Fossil Evidence: Fossil Specimens, Europe, Worldwide
Website Links: Journey of Mankind


As modern humans spread out from Africa they encountered other hominins such as Homo neanderthalensis and the Denisova hominin, who may have evolved from populations of Homo erectus. The nature of interaction between early humans and these sister species has been a long standing source of controversy, the question being whether humans replaced these earlier species or whether they were in fact similar enough to interbreed, in which case these earlier populations may have contributed genetic material - and immunity - to modern humans [Wood 2009].
The difference between Homo sapiens and their immediate successors Homo sapiens sapiens can be described by a number of anatomical features. Homo sapiens had robust skeletons, from a more physical life, rather than a reliance on technology. Homo sapiens have more visible brow ridges, less vertical foreheads and less prominent chins.
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Anatomical comparison of the skulls of Homo sapiens sapiens
(modern humans) and Homo neanderthalensis (right)
One of the chief characteristics of Homo sapiens was the migration out of Africa, occurring between 90,000 and 75,000 years ago. Modern humans subsequently spread globally, replacing earlier hominins, either through competition or hybridization.
Journey of Mankind - The Peopling of the World - Genetic Map
‘Cro-Magnon’ is the informal name for the first early modern humans of the European Upper Palaeolithic, and the term is used to describe the oldest modern people in Europe. The name derives from the Abri de Cro-Magnon, a rock shelter near Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil in southwestern France where the first specimen was found, dated to approximately 28,000 years old. The Cro-Magnons are linked to the paintings of Lascaux and the Aurignacian culture. The oldest definitely dated specimen is the Grotta del Cavallo tooth dated in 2011 to at least 43,000 years old. The Aurignacian culture is also identified by finely worked bone and flint points, as well as the figurine and animal sculptures. Cro-Magnons were primarily alpha-hunters of mammoth, bears, reindeer and such like. They would have been nomadic or semi-nomadic, following the annual migration of their prey. Huts were built from mammoth bones as semi-permanent hunting camps. Flax fibres have been discovered, used for hafting stone tools, weaving and sowing [Higham et al. 2011].


Homo sapiens sapiens is the subspecies of Homo sapiens that includes all modern humans.
The paleoanthropological term anatomically modern humans (AMH) refers to early individuals of Homo sapiens with an appearance consistent with the range of phenotypes [morphology, development, behavior etc.] in modern humans. Homo sapiens sapiens evolved from archaic Homo sapiens by the beginning of the Upper Palaeolithic period roughly 30,000 years BP - full behavioural modernity had developed.
The difference between Homo sapiens sapiens and their immediate ancestors Homo sapiens can be described by a number of anatomical features. Homo sapiens had robust skeletons, from a more physical life, rather than a reliance on technology. Homo sapiens sapiens have less visible brow ridges, more vertical foreheads and more prominent chins.
Did anatomically modern humans behave similarly to their immediate ancestors? Modern human behaviors characteristic of recent humans include fully modern language, the capacity for abstract thought and the use of symbolism to express cultural creativity. Was there a quantum leap 200,000 years ago, or had there been a gradual progression throughout the evolutionary tree? When did we become modern?
Some argue that modern human behavior [after 50,000 years ago based on the sudden abundance of human artifacts and art] occurred only once humans had achieved anatomical modernity [200,000 years ago]. Others argue that the two were achieved simultaneously. In other words, anatomical modernity [such as a lightly built skeleton] could occur only through increased human cooperation and the increased use of technology [modern behavior].
Homo sapiens sapiens exist today. Everyone alive on the planet today carries DNA that can be traced back to a single woman living in Africa over 150,000 years ago. Modern humans are truly 'out of Africa', with a migration occurring between 90,000 and 75,000 years ago. Each gender line had only one common genetic ancestor that respectively fathered and mothered the whole non-African world. This group was, in essence, the first cultural attaché for modern man. And it proves that cognitive and intellectual modernity were already on-board in Africa before the exodus. We subsequently spread around the globe, replacing earlier hominins, either through competition or hybridization. The implications of a single successful exit are highly significant, and lie at the core of the Journey of Mankind Genetic Map.
The Journey of Mankind demonstrates the overwhelming importance of climatology - either as a window of opportunity [lower sea levels during glaciation affording further migration] or as a slammed door of disaster [fertile corridors suddenly turning to desert]. Our physical and behavioural adaptations were focussed on surviving the struggle with our greatest enemy and sternest teacher - climate. The anthropological ramifications of the effects of climate cannot be understated: when the sun is shining, enter and explore new worlds. When there is global catastrophe, hunker down and improvise. The Map shows that the massive eruption of Mount Toba 74,000 years ago caused an instant volcanic winter and a thousand year Ice Age. Ironically, whilst this natural disaster not only decimated but also jeopardized to the point of extinction the global population, it hastened the development of prehistoric technology, which ultimately led to the occupation of hitherto inhospitable environments.
The question of course now is 'Will the Homo genus keep evolving?' Moreover, what other discoveries will help explain the 'untidy tree' of evolution?