Human version 2.001

By Razib Khan | July 30, 2012 7:09 pm

Dienekes reflects on the seemingly simultaneous appearance of behavioral modernityin South Africa and Europe and Australia, pending the acceptance of the most recent finds. This part is very important in my opinion:

The San people still live in several countries of southern Africa, and until the latter part of the 20th century were still mainly hunter-gatherers. But Dr. Stringer cautioned not to think of them as “living fossils,” unchanged by time. “Their genes, cultures and behaviors have undoubtedly continued to evolve in the intervening millennia,” he said.

I see no reason to think that these were the ancestors of the San. Over 45,000 years I think the most likely option is that genetic and cultural continuity will not be maintained, and these are probably a sister group to the modern peoples of Southern Africa. In any case, to address Dienekes’ confusion, I think this is one case where his non-American background shows. We know exactly what happened so long ago to kick-start modern humanity. The answer has been with us for over 40 years.

MORE ABOUT: Human Evolution

Comments (8)

  1. Ian

    And this is why you should never read the links before reading the rest of your post – I came back here ready to explain the cause…and you already had it in the post…

  2. Andy Gregg

    Not being familiar with the San people, I just Googled their image and was shocked by their Asiatic appearance. They seem to have Chinese facial features.

  3. Lank

    This goes to show how the lack of research in Africa; I presume partially due to poor preservation conditions, and partially due to a lack of interest, limits our understanding of ancient prehistory.

    Paola Villa, author of one of the studies, elaborates in the press release ;

    Our research proves that the Later Stone Age emerged in South Africa far earlier than has been believed and occurred at about the same time as the arrival of modern humans in Europe,” said Villa. “But differences in technology and culture between the two areas are very strong, showing the people of the two regions chose very different paths to the evolution of technology and society.

    These developments are distinct, so it is not tenable that Border Cave descends from the Eurasian Upper Paleolithic, to which it is roughly contemporaneous.

    Villa said that a fundamental rearrangement of human behavior that had its beginnings 50,000-60,000 years ago in Africa and spread to Europe — an idea first proposed by Stanford University archaeologist Richard Klein — appears quite plausible.

    Indeed, Y-DNA CT and mtDNA L3, dated to about 60,000-65,000 years ago, are that common link between Africa and Eurasia, and fit Eurasian developments fairly well.

    However, Khoisan do not seem to descend from those people. Their ancestors appear to have diverged from Eurasians far earlier. While I’m not certain about if the Khoisan descend from the people inhabiting the Border Cave 40 kya, it would make sense if they left at least some traces visible in the Y-DNA/mtDNA of modern Khoisan considering the great similarities with modern Khoisan technology. I’d say this is further supported by the fact that Khoisan are genetically separated from other Africans. While certain Khoisan groups have expanded relatively recently, their presence in the general region stretching from parts of Eastern and Central Africa to parts of Southern Africa is probably very ancient.

    The appearance of these developments at roughly the same time in such widely geographically separated areas is difficult to explain. The close time period makes it questionable whether they really are just the result of different human populations facing similar challenges. Hopefully this will change with future findings.

    #2, don’t be fooled by physical appearance. San are more distant from the Chinese genetically than any other Africans.

  4. Eurologist

    Ligeti sprach Zarathustra?

    More seriously, I see the logical center of culturally (and final cognitive?) modern humans in the subcontinent, with only small groups of AMHs surviving around and East of Toba. Looking at the sparsity of y-DNA haplogroups that survived Toba (+-locally) and their long roots without surviving brothers, things went very bad for quite a while. Apart from pockets of East Asian D and E close to Africa, and a handful of DE*, no one survived outside Africa except for the extremely long-rooted (i.e., also very isolated) CF.

    Perhaps one reasons all went in such short time, afterwards.

  5. Charles Nydorf

    1968 provides a good example of near simultaneous transformations occurring around the world. These things do happen.

  6. Sandgroper

    #2 – A comparison of postcrania gives a very different picture.

    #4 – West of Toba.

  7. FWIW, Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy has a back story that attributes lots of importance to an Upper Paleolithic event not unlike that of Arthur C. Clarke.

  8. Sandgroper

    #4 – Sorry, it was late and I misread. East of Toba.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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