A handful of recent discoveries have shattered anthropologists' picture of where humans came from, and when
- As anthropologists have discovered new species of human ancestors, our understanding of human history has changed.
- By sequencing the genomes from our Neanderthal and Denisovan cousins, scientists have also gained new insight into the genetic origins of our species.
- As researchers make more of these breakthroughs, the puzzle of who we are and where we came from gets more complicated.
- The earliest humans may have emerged much earlier, and in a different place in the world, than scientists previously thought.
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In recent years, anthropologists around the world have discovered new human ancestors, figured out what happened to the Neanderthals, and pushed back the age of the earliest member of our species.
Taken together, these breakthroughs suggest that many of our previous ideas about the human origin story - who we are and where we came from - were wrong.
Until the last few years, most scientists thought that the first members of our species, Homo sapiens, evolved in East Africa approximately 200,000 years ago. Then humanity remained in Africa for the next 140,000 years, according to this line of thought, before venturing into Europe and Asia in what's known as the "Out of Africa" migration about 60,000 years ago. Those early humans proceeded to take over territories once occupied by other human ancestor species like Neanderthals.
But this understanding of history has been upended as new discoveries revealed that the first humans emerged much earlier than we thought and in a different part of Africa. Rather than simply replacing other competitor species, Homo sapiens seem to have interbred with them.
As researchers make more of these breakthroughs, the human evolutionary puzzle gets more complicated.
A 2017 finding in Morocco threw into question the idea that modern humans originated in East Africa. Those bones were significantly older than any others ever found.
This discovery supported a new idea about human evolution: Perhaps Homo sapiens evolved all over Africa in interlinked groups that became more similar over time.
Still, based on recent genetic analyses, researchers think anatomically modern humans may have all originated in modern-day Botswana.
The ability to sequence ancient genomes is helping scientists learn about what our ancestors ate, how they looked, and where they came from.
DNA analysis has also revealed that, rather than out-competing and eliminating our ancient Neanderthal cousins, modern humans interbred with them extensively.
It turns out that Homo sapiens interbred with another human ancestor species, Denisovans, as well.
Scientists discovered Denisovans after finding a tiny, lone finger bone in a Siberian cave.
Since the discovery of the Denisovans, anthropologists have also found several other species of human ancestors in Africa and Asia. Our own ancestors may have lived alongside or even mated with them.
Berger's team announced the discovery of another new human ancestor species in South Africa five years later. It's called Homo naledi.
Anthropologists found teeth and a finger bone from yet another human ancestor in the Philippines in April 2019. The species was a precursor to Homo sapiens.
Before these recent findings, anthropologists thought our ancestors left the African continent in one mass exodus around 60,000 years ago.
A 210,000-year-old skull found in Greece may push that migration timeline even further back.
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