From: Tom Marshall, Planet Earth Online
Published February 2, 2014 10:23 AM

New study on human origins

Radiocarbon dating of human remains from one of the deepest prehistoric sites in the Near East throws into question widely-held ideas about how the first modern people spread across the world during the Palaeolithic era.

The traditional view is that the first humans with anatomy like ours evolved in Africa, then from about 50,000 years ago started to spread into the Near East before continuing into Asia and Europe.

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But the new study suggests they may have settled the Near East a lot later than previously thought, and that therefore the region may not be the single vital crossroads through which early humans passed on their way to colonising the whole Eurasian landmass. If so, the story of our spread out of Africa may need to be rewritten. Instead of colonising the Levant then moving into Europe, our distant ancestors may have first settled in the central Asian steppes before turning west again.

'Since the 1930s, many prehistorians have believed the Levant was a major strategic point for people moving from Africa into the Middle East and Europe,' says Dr Katerina Douka of the University of Oxford, who led the research. 'It sounds a straightforward and obvious idea, but these early humans didn't necessarily follow the maps of today.'

She adds that the region has received comparatively little attention from archaeologists, so theories tend to rest on a very small base of evidence - the Near East is the least-dated area of the Palaeolithic world. On top of this, the region's hot dry conditions make scientific archaeology difficult - for example, the climate tends to destroy the collagen on which radiocarbon dating of bones depends.

Rock carving photo via Shutterstock.

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