Water Cooler – Humans May Have Left Africa Much Earlier Than Thought


About 200,000 years ago a new species looked around the African savannah, another in a line of great apes the early modern humans would have been shorter than us, maybe a little more hairy but if you dressed them up in modern clothes you would be hard pressed to pick them out of a crowd (with the exception of their wide eyed stare at all the things they had never seen or dreamed of before, of course).

It has been thought that sometime around 70,000 years ago the first early modern humans left the continent of their origin and started into the Middle East and the Mediterranean Coast in a series of migrations. That time line is being turned on its head.

The Guardian Newspaper is reporting that a team lead by a German scientist Han-Peter Uerpmann (cool name by the way!) has found stone tools that date back to around 125,000 years ago, or 55,000 years earlier than anyone thought humans had left Africa. . . .

These tools were found on the edge of the Persian Gulf at a site that had Neolithic, Bronze and Iron age artifacts. This area had many rocky caves which would have provided excellent living for early humans.

Obviously pushing the time line for the first exodus from Africa back so far requires more than just a few stone tools. The team also looked at climatic data which suggests that an ice age was ending and the interior of the Arabian Peninsula would have been covered in small lakes and rivers.

The end of the ice age would be important too, as it would mean that there would be a very shallow (a few feet deep) stretch of water that would have allowed the early migrants access to the peninsula. They could have either walked or built rafts to move them across this calm shallow stretch of water.

One of the things about archeology that has always fascinated me is the idea that people, humans, with the same potential as us , but with less absolute knowledge started out from where they lived to somewhere new. They had no idea if they would find good hunting, or if there would be fierce predators they had never seen before. All they knew is that the horizon called, and they chose to follow it.

It is impossible to know if this really was the first human migration out of Africa. We thought the first ones were much later. It may be that the people who made these stone tools were just following the legend of some of their tribe who walked towards the setting sun and were never seen again.

However if the makers of these stone axes and scrapers where the first, then their descendents moved on to Asia and perhaps even Australia, always looking for the new, always hearing the call of the horizon and following it. We humans do a lot of stuff that is pretty nasty, but our desire to know, our insistence on seeing what lies beyond that mountain or sea is one of the best things about this group of mostly hairless apes.

What’s on your mind tonight, Firedogs? The floor is yours.

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