The African Origins of Modern Humans

September 8, 2004
Stony Brook University

This symposium brought together many of the world’s leading anthropologists and archaeologists – scholars whose work provides broad coverage of 600,000 years of human evolution in Africa. Lectures and panel discussions considered both anatomical and behavioral evidence for the nature and location of the appearance of modern humans within the African paleontological and archaeological records.

In the past decade an overwhelming consensus has emerged that modern human anatomy and behavior first appeared in Africa sometime during the past 600,000 years, and spread from there to the rest of the world. Yet the details of when and how our lineage acquired modern human anatomy and behavior — and how these are defined — are far from any general agreement. And while the origins of modern human behavior have been widely debated, there has been much less discussion about the evolution of modern human anatomy.

Questions addressed included:

  • Are early Middle Pleistocene hominids from Africa morphologically different from their contemporaries in other parts of the world?
  • Are they more like modern humans?
  • When do we find anatomically modern humans?
  • What is the relationship between the archeological record and the anatomical record of human evolution in Africa during the past 600,000 years?
  • What does the archeological record tell us about changes in subsistence behaviors, cognitive abilities, social life?
  • How are these related to climate, and to hominid movements out of Africa?
  • The material presented and discussed at the symposium will both be current and accessible to an informed but non-specialist audience.