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Out of Africa and Into Asia:
Archeological Evidence of Early Homo
sapiens in Asia

Out of Africa vs. Multiregionalism

       According to Klein (1999), the Out of Africa theory states that the
ancestors of modern Homo sapiens evolved in Africa, and then spread
throughout the Old World.  The theory continues that modern Homo sapiens replaced the more archaic species that had long previously
spread from Africa, a very different theory from Multiregionalism, which instead states that Homo sapiens evolved through the gene flow
between geographically different groups of archaic hominids.  First the ancestors of modern humans evolved and spread; later, the future
generations of these evolved Homo sapiens left Africa once more, to spread throughout the Old World.  For the purpose of this paper, the
archeological evidence from Asia will be used to verify the Out of Africa theory.


       In order to fully examine the nature and implications of this important event, and the theories behind them, it is important to
examine the background of each theory individually.  Klein (1999) further states that originally, Homo erectus and Neanderthals were
wide spread, ranging from Africa to Asia to Europe to the Middle East. There are two main theories on how Homo erectus and Neanderthals came
to expand into these regions from Africa.  The first theory is Multiregionalism; this theory states that Homo sapiens evolved through
the gene flow happening between these various regions, thereby evolving simultaneously throughout the world.  However, the second
theory postulates that modern Homo sapiens evolved solely in Africa, and at a time between 60 and 50ky ago, the modern Homo sapiens spread
out and replaced the other archaic human ancestors.

Archeological Evidence

       This paper uses many different types of archeological evidence from Asia to support the Out of Africa theory.  In order to prove Out of
Africa, one must disprove Multiregionalism.  What one would expect to find in the fossil record under Multiregionalism is populations of
Homo erectus and Neanderthals, along with fossils of anatomically modern humans.  Between the archaic and the modern forms, one would
expect to find transitional forms showing similarities from older fossils to newer fossils, according to Gamble (1993).  For example,
fossils of an anatomically modern human would be distinguished from more archaic fossils by their large size, having gracile skeletons,
domed heads, small teeth, and lightly built faces; whereas Homo erectus and Neanderthals had more robust skeletons, with larger teeth and
heavier features.

erectus sapien bones

       If Multiregionalism were true, then one would expect to find fossils showing transitional forms between the archaic and the modern;
however, the fossil evidence in Asia has archaic and modern fossils, and those fossils which have been interpreted as intermediate forms
could also be examples of shared traits from the ancestral hominid forms.   Along with this, it should be noted that determining
a biological species from fossil data is always difficult.

skull                                man
Archaic: Homo erectus, Zhoukoudian Skull                                                                                               Modern: Homo sapien, Liujiang Skull

       Other archeological evidence from Asia which supports the Out of Africa theory is the significant change in stone tool technology,
which occurred about forty thousand years ago.  This issue, discussed by Gamble (1993), coincides with a well-known similar event which
happened in Europe, where the upper Paleolithic tool technology (which was used by modern humans) rapidly replaced the middle Paleolithic
tool technology (used by Neanderthals).  Out of Africa calls for just this sort of sudden replacement, rather than the gradual
evolution of technology expected under Multiregionalism.

image 1    prism      burin

Middle Paleolithic tools                                                                                                                            Upper Paleolithic tools

       There are, however, several problems with the fossil evidence in Asia.   First and foremost, the fossils found in Asia are scarce due
to environmental factors in the area, as discussed by Anderson (1997). An example provided by Gamble (1993) was that only one skull of
erectus has been found in the entire subcontinent of India, located in Narmada.  The early Homo sapiens fossils which have been found in Asia
to support this theory were found mostly in cave sites, where the stratigraphy of the regions makes it quite difficult to properly date
these specimens.  The potassium-argon method of dating covers the lower and middle Pleistocene.  The radiocarbon method can only date back
forty thousand years before it becomes unreliable.  This creates a gap between the time period potassium argon and the time period where
carbon dating would cover, and that gap appears where most would agree that either Multiregionalism or Out of Africa was taking place,
leaving each theory with uncertain dating evidence.

Future Research

       The aim of future research into this topic should be directed at gathering a greater number of specimens from a region poor in evidence. 
More digs must be implemented in southeast Asia aimed
at discovering more data on the archaic hominids in the area, and also
the earliest Homo sapiens.  For the Out of Africa theory, there would not be evidence of a transitional period discovered in the
archeological record.  But without a great deal of data to compare, it cannot be proven that there are not in fact transitional forms.
Archeologists must find fossils from the time period where a transition would have taken place in, in order to prove that modern
Homo sapiens rapidly replaced the archaic hominids in Asia, rather than there being a transitional period.

Works Cited

Anderson D.  September 1997.  Cave archeology in Southeast Asia.
Geoarcheology Vol 12, Issue 6: 607-638.

Gamble C.  1993.  Timewalkers: the Prehistory of Global Colonization.
Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Klein, R.  1999.  The Human Career: Human Biological and Cultural
Origins.  Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Images courtesy of:

Outside Links:

Evolutionary differences between men and women

Stephen J. Gould on evolution

Interactive experiment in instantaneous evolution

Website by Erin McDonald, for ASM 301.  April 19, 2005.