Despite the Earth’s existence for over 4.6 billion years, many debates still cover its being, especially concerning the Earth itself as well as its inhabitants. One of today’s most prominent debates has to do with the origin of the modern species of humans, Homo sapiens.
In 1974, our earliest ancestor Lucy, a woman of the Australopithecus family, was found in Ethiopia. Commenting on her discovery, in 2012, scientist Derek Rossi stated “More specifically, the Afar region of Ethiopia has been the site where many of the most significant early hominid fossils have been unearthed, including the Australopithecus afarensis fossil find by Donald Johanson, dubbed Lucy.” Lucy’s importance to paleontology became evident, as it was clear that she was probably the oldest ancestor for every species of hominin.
However, despite her major contribution to science, Lucy was not the only human-like species to be found in Africa. In 2008, the two million year old remains of the Australopithecus sediba were discovered in Johannesburg, South Africa. Paleontologists determined that its human-like features in South Africa developed just as the afarensis developed in the East. The evolution of the two genuses into the eventual modern day humans shows that several different species of humans existed in Africa two million years ago.
Our species, the modern day humans- Homo sapiens, are of the genus Homo. Homo sapiens evolved from primates such as monkeys, orangutans, and chimpanzees on the basis that they could walk upright, making them become classified under the family Hominidae. The Homo erectus, our direct ancestor, shows several key physiological differences from its predecessor, the Australopithecus including a smaller mouth size, an increase in brain size as well as an increase cranial capacity.
With the general consensus that humans have ties in Africa, two hypotheses have attempted to explain the origin of modern humans in a different light. The Out-of-Africa hypothesis proposes that a migration out of Africa happened about 100,000 years ago, in which modern humans of African origin conquered the world and completely replaced the Homo erectus, which had already established itself in regions such as Eurasia. The multiregional hypothesis states that Homo sapiens evolved from several, different human populations in different areas of the world during the million years since Homo erectus migrated out of Africa. Despite both hypotheses having their own rebuttals, the former is more widely accepted, demonstrating that a larger part of the population seems to feel that modern-day humans evolved out of Africa only recently, making their ties to the continent stronger.
Modern-day Africa currently houses over 1.2 billion people, with an additional 170 million people claiming some sort of descent found in some part of the continent. As an African immigrant myself, my family and I have grown accustomed to describing Africa as “the motherland” when directed at my own family tree. However, these discoveries in paleontology have led many people in all parts of the world to look towards Africa as their “motherland,” whether their ties to Africa traced back 50 years ago or two million years ago.
Click here for more information on each of the theories relating to the origin of modern humans.
Click here for a visual of the evolution of modern-day humans.
Editor: Maria ‘Stefi’ Ticsa