The New Story of Humanity’s Origins in Africa

There is a decades-old origin story for our species, in which we descended from a group of hominids who lived somewhere in Africa around 200,000 years ago. Some scientists have placed that origin in East Africa; others championed a southern birthplace. In either case, the narrative always begins in one spot. Those ancestral hominids, probably Homo heidelbergensis, slowly accumulated the characteristic features of our species — the rounded skull, small face, prominent chin, advanced tools, and sophisticated culture. From that early cradle, we then spread throughout Africa, and eventually the world. But some scientists are now arguing that this textbook narrative is wrong in its simplicity, linearity, and geography. Yes, we evolved from ancestral hominids in Africa, but we did it in a complicated fashion — one that involves the entire continent.

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