Bridging disciplines to better elucidate the evolution of early Homo sapiens in southern Africa
Keywords:Homo sapiens, genetic studies, archaeology, palaeoanthropology, southern Africa
Elucidating the history of Homo sapiens has been a passion shared by many researchers spanning several decades. There are now overwhelming lines of evidence from genetic, archaeological, palaeoanthropological and, to some extent, palaeoenvironmental research, that place Africa as the region of origin of our species. The different fields of study use diverse types of data, and methods are subject to variances introduced by mutation rates, time estimates and/or sampling biases. All of these approaches have their respective shortcomings and error ranges and are accompanied by intense debate. Yet, it is timeous to review the most recent and salient highlights that the different approaches are contributing towards explaining our deep history and ancestry. It is, after all, one history, and consequently, there ought to be several convergent patterns between data sets. Our focus is to present an updated regional synthesis from each discipline for a specific window in time within the southern African context, namely between ~160 ka and 85 ka, and to speculate about possible connections between data sets for this period. Even though our focus is specific in time and space, it is not intended to consider southern Africa in isolation from the rest of Africa or to suggest a singular ‘origins’ locale for modern Homo sapiens. We hope that this integrated approach will stimulate discussions to include broader time periods within Africa and between continents.
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