Send to:

Choose Destination
See comment in PubMed Commons below
Am J Phys Anthropol. 1998;Suppl 27:137-76.

Towards a theory of modern human origins: geography, demography, and diversity in recent human evolution.

Author information

  • 1Departamento de Biologia, Instituto de Biociências, Universidade de São Paulo, Brasil.


The origins of modern humans have been the central debate in palaeoanthropology during the last decade. We examine the problem in the context of the history of anthropology, the accumulating evidence for a recent African origin, and evolutionary mechanisms. Using a historical perspective, we show that the current controversy is a continuation of older conflicts and as such relates to questions of both origins and diversity. However, a better fossil sample, improved dates, and genetic data have introduced new perspectives, and we argue that evolutionary geography, which uses spatial distributions of populations as the basis for integrating contingent, adaptive, and demographic aspects of microevolutionary change, provides an appropriate theoretical framework. Evolutionary geography is used to explore two events: the evolution of the Neanderthal lineage and the relationship between an ancestral bottleneck with the evolution of anatomically modern humans and their diversity. We argue that the Neanderthal and modern lineages share a common ancestor in an African population between 350,000 and 250,000 years ago rather than in the earlier Middle Pleistocene; this ancestral population, which developed mode 3 technology (Levallois/Middle Stone Age), dispersed across Africa and western Eurasia in a warmer period prior to independent evolution towards Neanderthals and modern humans in stage 6. Both lineages would thus share a common large-brained ancestry, a technology, and a history of dispersal. They differ in the conditions under which they subsequently evolved and their ultimate evolutionary fate. Both lineages illustrate the repeated interactions of the glacial cycles, the role of cold-arid periods in producing fragmentation of populations, bottlenecks, and isolation, and the role of warmer periods in producing trans-African dispersals.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PubMed Commons home

PubMed Commons

How to join PubMed Commons

    Supplemental Content

    Loading ...
    Write to the Help Desk