Homo sapiens are just about ready to do it anywhere, anytime. And when I say “do it” I mean to say talk.
There’s just so many things that arise after talking. Friendships are formed. Relationships are established. Structures are erected. Sex happens. And because of the latter and our penchant for constant conversations, we have a strong claim as the sexiest member of the Homo genus. This isn’t just a brash conclusion stemming from species pride, but it is an appreciation of our evolutionary and historical victory as a successful branch of Homo that has survived the odds: even when a lot of events could have easily doomed our ancestors to extinction. So, almost all of the members of our tribe have died. Let’s have sex. And so they populated one place and another. Not a member of our species? No problem. Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) weren’t spared from the sexy streak that humans set as they rampaged and reproduced across the world.
Suffice to say, we really do walk our talk.
And we’ve been walking for ages. In fact, much much earlier than expected. A jawbone with an intact set of teeth recovered in Israel has been dated to be around 177,000–194,000 years old. This means that Homo sapiens ventured out of Africa and came to the Arabian peninsula very early on in their infancy as a species. Amazing stuff. If the accepted date for H. sapiens’ birth is projected to be 200,000 years ago, then that means that early humans started to migrate as soon as they emerged out of the evolutionary womb. Imagine having a child less than five years old ask you, its parent, that it’ll be moving out soon to start life anew somewhere. Next thing you know it’s already in a different continent and doing well, all before it reaches the age of ten!
The idea that Homo sapiens all share a common origin in the African continent can be traced back to Charles Darwin himself, although there may have been others before him that have postulated the same idea. But Darwin was the first major scientist to publish this idea publicly in print. He did so even without fossil specimens for study. So how did he do it? His method was to compare the anatomical and physiological similarities of extant (still existing, as opposed to extinct) ape species with that of humans. In his 1871 text The Descent of Man, he wrote the following suggestion:
“In each great region of the world the living mammals are closely related to the extinct species of the same region. It is, therefore, probable that Africa was formerly inhabited by extinct apes closely allied to the gorilla and chimpanzee; and as these two species are now man’s nearest allies, it is somewhat more probable that our early progenitors lived on the African continent than elsewhere.”
But Darwin published this idea in a time when racism was ripe and rampant, and the notion that Victorian England had its roots in Africa, a “savage” continent, was anathema to its ideology of imperial supremacy. So Darwin’s idea was buried in obscurity and received no obituary from the scientific community. It was later dug up and brought to life again in 1924 when miners in a quarry in Taung, South Africa, recovered fossil remains of what is now known as Australopithecus africanus. The fossils were sent to an anatomist working in Johannesburg, Raymond Dart, who was the one who named it in 1925 and described it as something ape-like with human features. The corollary of this finding was the suggestion that A. africanus represented a species that branched off from a common ancestor shared with humans. But scientists, not exactly the objective body that they often claim to be, found it preposterous since it was found not in Asia or Europe, but in Africa.
But we now know better. Or so we’d like to believe.
Excavations in Morocco have yielded H. sapiens fossils that date to 300,000 years ago. Specimens from China have been found to be 120,000 years old. These cases have been used to disqualify the Out of Africa theory. If H. sapiens were already in this continent at this time, then that could only mean that H. sapiens didn’t arise in Africa. But this conclusion is fundamentally wrong. Early arrival does not necessarily mean that the theory is invalid. What these findings do is task us to ask more questions and demand for more rigorous methods of coming up with more accurate results – and/or maybe force us to consider an even earlier birth for our species. Perhaps Homo sapiens arrived at the scene 400,000 years ago (or even earlier) and not 200,000 as commonly held by the Out of Africa theory. Say, if I started to attend school in 1993, instead of 1995, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I wasn’t born in my hometown in 1990 – or, the other plausible conclusion is that I was simply born earlier and was wrongly recorded to be born in 1990, but despite that error, I was definitely born in my hometown. These findings simply affirm the robust nature of science as a series of corrections. It would take stronger arguments, not just from paleontology, but also from molecular biology, genetics, archaeology, and etc., where the Out of Africa theory enjoy strong support, to act in tandem in order to completely dispute the theory.
So there we have it. Our early human ancestors blazed their way out of Africa and into the rest of the world earlier than expected. Vini, vidi, multiplicamini. They came. They saw. They multiplied. Our ancestors weren’t the first who came here and there. But the important thing is they did. And they did so in ways that were better than the others who did so before them. It’s a story that sets a precedent for the future of our species: the odds are ever stacking against us, catastrophically paramount, making the planet we live in extremely hostile and inhabitable. Perhaps we can take inspiration from our forebears who never stopped to look for solutions in the direst of situations. The goal then is to never stop exploring. If that’s so, maybe we should all start packing our bags and head for space.
I’m not sure when that will happen, but all I know is we’re definitely coming.