News FocusAnthropology

A New View Of the Birth of Homo sapiens

Science  28 Jan 2011:
Vol. 331, Issue 6016, pp. 392-394
DOI: 10.1126/science.331.6016.392

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New DNA data from archaic human species are providing a much higher resolution view of our past. When compared with the genomes of living people, the ancient genomes allow anthropologists to thoroughly test the competing models of human origins for the first time. The DNA data suggest not one but at least two instances of interbreeding between archaic and modern humans, raising the question of whether Homo sapiens at that point was a distinct species (see sidebar). And so they appear to refute the idea that modern humans came out of Africa, spread around the world, and completely replaced the archaic humans they met. But the genomic data also don't prove the classic multiregionalism model, which argues that a single, worldwide species of human, including archaic forms outside of Africa, met, mingled, and had offspring, and so produced Homo sapiens. They suggest only a small amount of interbreeding, presumably at the margins where invading moderns met archaic groups. The new picture most resembles so-called assimilation models, which got relatively little attention over the years.