The story of human evolution in Africa is undergoing a major rewrite

There’s a story that we’ve been telling about the origin of our species. It goes something like this: Around 200,000 years ago, in East Africa — near modern-day Ethiopia — the first Homo sapiens diverged from an ancestral species, perhaps Homo erectus. From there, we spread, in a linear manner over millennia north into Europe, and then through the rest of the world.

That story, it turns out, is wrong — or at least woefully incomplete. In two papers published in Nature in June, anthropologists say they’ve found evidence that the dawn of our species may have actually been much earlier.

Evolution is not a straight line. It’s one that produces many branches (most of which die off). Those branches can also join back together in the future. Those rejoined branches sprout branches. Some of those branch off and recombine. Others die. It’s a tangled mess.


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