When did humans first appear on Earth?
- Overview Homo sapiens, the first modern humans, evolved from their early hominid predecessors between 200,000 and 300,000 years ago. They developed a capacity for language about 50,000 years ago. The first modern humans began moving outside of Africa starting about 70,000-100,000 years ago.
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Arts and humanities · World history · Beginnings - 600 BCE · The origin of humans and early human societies Homo sapiens and early human migration Homo sapiens evolved from their early hominid predecessors between 200,000 and 300,000 years ago and developed a capacity for language about 50,000 years ago.
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- The First Humans
- Early Humans, Neanderthals, Denisovans Mixed It Up
- Human Evolution Was Messy
- Early Human Ancestors Shared Skills
First things first: A “human” is anyone who belongs to the genus Homo(Latin for “man”). Scientists still don’t know exactly when or how the first humans evolved, but they’ve identified a few of the oldest ones. One of the earliest known humans is Homo habilis, or “handy man,” who lived about 2.4 million to 1.4 million years ago in Eastern and Southern Africa. Others include Homo rudolfensis, who lived in Eastern Africa about 1.9 million to 1.8 million years ago (its name comes from its discovery in East Rudolph, Kenya); and Homo erectus, the “upright man” who ranged from Southern Africa all the way to modern-day China and Indonesia from about 1.89 million to 110,000 years ago. In addition to these early humans, researchers have found evidence of an unknown “superarchaic” group that separated from other humans in Africa around two million years ago. These superarchaic humans mated with the ancestors of Neanderthals and Denisovans, according to a paper published in Science Advances in...
After the superarchaic humans came the archaic ones: Neanderthals, Denisovans and other human groups that no longer exist. Archaeologists have known about Neanderthals, or Homo neanderthalensis, since the 19th century, but only discovered Denisovans in 2008 (the group is so new it doesn’t have a scientific name yet). Since then, researchers have discovered Neanderthals and Denisovans not only mated with each other, they also mated with modern humans. “When the Max Plank Institute [for Evolutionary Anthropology] began getting nuclear DNA sequenced data from Neanderthals, then it became very clear very quickly that modern humans carried some Neanderthal DNA,” says Alan R. Rogers, a professor of anthropology and biology at the University of Utah and lead author of the Science Advancespaper. “That was a real turning point… It became widely accepted very quickly after that.” As a more recently-discovered group, we have far less information on Denisovans than Neanderthals. But archaeologi...
Scientists are still figuring out when all this inter-group mating took place. Modern humans may have mated with Neanderthals after migrating out of Africa and into Europe and Asia around 70,000 years ago. Apparently, this was no one-night stand—research suggeststhere were multiple encounters between Neanderthals and modern humans. Less is known about the Denisovans and their movements, but research suggestsmodern humans mated with them in Asia and Australia between 50,000 and 15,000 years ago. Until recently, some researchers assumed people of African descent didn’t have Neanderthal ancestry because their predecessors didn’t leave Africa to meet the Neanderthals in Europe and Asia. But in January 2020, a paper in Cell upended that narrative by reporting that modern populations across Africa also carry a significant amount of Neanderthal DNA. Researchers suggest this could be the result of modern humans migrating back into Africaover the past 20,000 years after mating with Neanderth...
Human groups that encountered each other probably swapped more than just genes, too. Neanderthals living in modern-day France roughly 50,000 years ago knew how to start a fire, according to a 2018 Nature paperon which Sorensen was the lead author. Fire-starting is a key skill that different human groups could have passed along to each other—possibly even one that Neanderthals taught to some modern humans. “These early human groups, they really got around,” Sorensen says. “These people just move around so much that it’s very difficult to tease out these relationships.”