The long-held origin story for our species is that we descended from ancestral hominids that emerged 200,000 years ago from a region of Africa. However, some scientists are now arguing that we evolved from hominids in Africa in a complicated fashion that involves the entire continent, and not one particular region, writes Ed Yong for The Atlantic.
The biggest evidence for this theory is the ancient human fossils from a Moroccan cave called Jebel Irhoud that are 315,000 years old, and known as the oldest fossils to-date of Homo sapiens. The discovery pushed back the proposed start of our species, and added northwest Africa to the list of possible origin sites.
Fossils from all over Africa have modern and ancient traits in varied combinations, suggesting that our species used to be far more diverse than we currently are. As Eleanor Scerri, an archaeologist at the University of Oxford explains it, “If you look at skulls, you’ll see different features of modern humans arising in different locations at different times.” She and others are now arguing that humans originated from several diverse populations that lived across Africa.
Changing climate and landscape caused early humans to come together and pull apart—whenever they met, they mated, exchanging genes. This theory is known as “African multiregionalism,” which theorizes the whole continent of Africa was the cradle of humankind. “We’re saying that it’s extremely unlikely that humans evolved in one location and then spread throughout the world,” explains Mark Thomas, co-author of a paper composed of 22 anthropologists, archaeologists, geneticists, and climatologists. Advocates argue that Homo sapiens emerged from an ancestral hominid that was widespread throughout Africa, separated into isolated populations.