Uncover the ancestors in the evolution of Homo sapiens

This skull, brought from Jebel Irhoud in Morocco, is often referred to as the father of modern man. The meaning of this father is discussed and separated in a new study by Bergstrom and colleagues. Credit: Chris Stringer

Experts from the Museum of Natural History, the Francis Crick Institute and the Max Planck Institute for Human History have come together to unravel the different meanings of ancestry in the evolution of our Homo sapiens species.

Many of us are amazed at the prevalence of our own fathers and the fathers of the human race. We regularly see headlines such as ‘A new human ancestor has been discovered’ or ‘A new fossil changes everything we think about our ancestors’, but the meanings of words such as ancestry and father are rarely discussed in detail. In a new article published in Nature, experts examine our current understanding of how the modern human ancestor on Earth can come to the distant past and what ancestors passed through during our past journey.

Chris Stringer, a co-author of the Museum of Natural History, said: “Some of our ancestors lived in groups or populations that could be identified in the fossil record, while little is known about others. Over the next decade, the growing recognition of our complex origins should expand the geographical center of paleoanthropological work to areas previously peripheral to our evolution, such as Central and West Africa, the Indian subcontinent, and Southeast Asia. ”

The study identified three main stages in our ancestor, which are covered in great questions and will be the boundaries of future research. From the expansion of modern humans around the world about 40,000 to 60,000 years ago and recent known contact with archaic groups such as Neanderthals and Denisovans, about 60,000 to 300,000 years ago, modern human diversity originated in Africa, and finally about 300,000 to 1 million years ago. ancestors.

Scientists claim that a certain point in time cannot be determined when the ancestor of modern man is in a limited place of birth, and that a number of known examples of the first appearance of anatomical or behavioral features often used to determine Homo sapiens are consistent. evolutionary dates.

Pontus Skoglund, co-author of the Francis Crick Institute, said: “Contrary to many people’s beliefs, neither genetic nor fossil records have identified a specific time and place for the origin of our species. Such a point may not exist when most of our ancestors were found in a small geographical area and the features we associate with our species emerged. For now, it would be useful to move away from the idea of ​​a single time and place of origin. ”

Eleanor Scerri, author of the Pan-African Evolution Research Group at the Max Planck Institute, said, “The main questions that arise here are related to the mechanisms that drive and sustain these human patches with all the different ancestral threads.” For the Science of Human History. “Understanding the relationship between fractured habitats and changing human niches will undoubtedly play a key role in opening these questions, clarifying which demographic patterns are best suited to genetic and paleoanthropological records.”

The success of direct genetic analysis so far underscores the importance of a broader, older genetic record. This will require continuous technological improvements in ancient times DNA (aDNA) search, biomolecular scanning of fragmented fossils to find unrecognized human material, more extensive searches for sedimentary aDNA, and improvements in the evolutionary data provided by ancient proteins. An interdisciplinary analysis of growing genetic, fossil, and archaeological records will undoubtedly reveal many new surprises about the roots of modern man.

References: Anders Bergström, Chris Stringer, Mateja Hajdinjak, Eleanor ML Scerri and Pontus Skoglund, “The Root of Modern Man”, February 10, 2021, Nature.
DOI: 10.1038 / s41586-021-03244-5

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