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90 Comments:
losvedir said 10 days ago:

Can someone link to a kind of summary of the current best understanding of human evolution and dispersal? It's really fascinating to me.

Until recently, I had naively understood "Out of Africa" to mean that homo sapiens evolved in Africa from some sort of ape like thing and then went out and conquered the world. But the idea that homo sapiens is just one of many kinds of human species, and that other ones like Neanderthals and Denosivans left Africa earlier (or evolved from homo erectus who left earlier still...?) is really mind blowing. It's weird to me to think of multiple human species living at the same time.

blisterpeanuts said 10 days ago:

The general consensus up until now is, roughly:

Homo Erectus: 1 million B.C. to about 500,000 B.C.

Homo Neanderthalensis and Homo Sapiens split off from common ancestor: 500,000 B.C.

Homo Sapiens dominate Africa until about 70,000 B.C. when they spread into Europe, Middle East, and Asia.

Neanderthals dominate Europe, Middle East, and Asia, until 70,000 B.C. when Homo Sapiens return out of Africa.

There are a few other variations of humans in the 300KYA to 70KYA period, including: Denisovans (found in Siberia and other places), the "hobbits" found in Indonesia.

It's possible and likely that around 100KYA, there were several species of humans cohabiting the earth, including modern humans (H. sapiens), Neanderthals, Denisovans, a few remaining H. Erectus, the hobbits, and some mixtures of the above.

Each discovery sheds new light and sometimes, as with this possible modern human skull, shatters old theories about the timeline.

It's fascinating to think that at one time in the not-too-distant past, there were multiple species of humans in existence, of which only one survived, though most non-African humans today carry 2-4% Neanderthal genes, so in a sense, some traits of the Neanderthals survived. We are the Neanderthals.

It's time we stopped using the term "Neanderthal" as an insult. They were possibly as smart as modern humans, had larger brains, had tools, ritual burial, weapons technologies, and art work. Their anatomical structure indicates that likely they had language. It's possible that they were gentler than H. Sapiens which would explain how they got gobbled up and made extinct, despite their vast strength (Neanderthals bone structure and muscle attachments indicate that they were many times stronger than modern humans.)

war1025 said 10 days ago:

Sort of a tangent, but I've wondered before if the "Nephilim" mentioned in Genesis could have been some distant memory of when Humans coexisted with Neanderthals.

From Wikipedia:

    When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. Then the Lord said, "My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years." The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown.
    — Genesis 6:1–4, New Revised Standard Version

Basically says that there were people like humans, but different and larger and stronger. And that at some point they died out.

Sounds a lot like what we know about Neanderthals.

Also Genesis is sort of the "deep memory" of humanity. Especially the first few chapters.

zaat said 10 days ago:

Genesis is dated to no earlier then 2500 years ago, probably much later. Neanderthals left the scene about 68000 years before them.

Compared to the Neanderthals, Genesis writers are our contemporaries.

Genesis writers first-hand knowledge about Neanderthals is similar to that most people nowadays have. Their general knowledge is far lesser.

war1025 said 10 days ago:

The writers of Genesis are our contemporaries, but my understanding is that the first few chapters is a recording of oral traditions that stretch back way further than that.

zaat said 10 days ago:

Most probably, but couple of thousands of years? more then 30,000?

abathur said 10 days ago:

Why not, though?

Would how often, in 100, 1,000, 10,000, or 100,000 years would the complete chain of human intellectual lineage be broken, and a generation of people be raised with absolutely no input from the preceding generation?

Look through Wikipedia's page on Indo-European vocabulary (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indo-European_vocabulary#Kinsh...), and see how recognizable some of the fundamental building blocks of communication are, despite the passage of time, movement of people, and rise and fall of societies.

If word forms can so readily be passed down multiple inheritance trees over thousands of miles and years and still be somewhat recognizable, how improbable is it that we inherited living stories that co-evolved with us through thousands of generations?

zaat said 10 days ago:

I see the link you provided as evidence to the improbability of GP's premise.

Consider that common daily used words can change to a degree that they at best resemble their origin, and that in just a single or two millenniums. Do you believe any oral tradition can survive and preserve anything from it's original meaning after 20k years?

Do you know any story about your family from 300 years ago? Do you know anyone who knows (leaving aside kings and the like, where the stories are again only known from canonical origins)? Do you know the name of any of your ancestors from 4,000 years ago? The name of the place they lived in?

doubleunplussed said 10 days ago:

We don't have strong oral traditions anymore, so I really have no way to guess how long things can be passed down by cultures that do.

There's evidence the indigenous Australians passed down knowledge of the end of the last glaciation period [1] 10000 - 13000 years ago.

[1] https://theconversation.com/ancient-aboriginal-stories-prese...

zaat said 10 days ago:

Again, 10000 - 13000 years ago is much closer to us than the Neanderthals are to the ancient Aboriginal Australians or the ancient Hebrewes. And this stories, if they indeed are 13,000 years old, are by far the oldest example we have.

hnzix said 10 days ago:

Indigenous Australian oral history and cave paintings reference the "dreamtime"[0], which is plausibly the group's initial ocean crossing perhaps ~45k years ago.

More definitely, here[1] is an Australian oral tradition that records a catastrophe ~7k years ago.

The picture is super blurry but then so is Genesis.

[0] https://austhrutime.com/first_boat_people.htm

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/sep/16/indig...

abathur said 10 days ago:

Heh. Heh.

So, AFAIR one interpretation of the relative ubiquity of ancient flood myths is that most established cultures had to live through a time of periodic glacial lake outburst floods as the climate warmed from the last glacial maxima, along with rising seas inundating some inland basins like the Persian Gulf.

I'm not sure about the probability or improbability of this premise in the grand scheme of all probable events, but it seems fair to call it a plausible premise. These events would mostly fit on a timeline of 15k years ago to 8k years ago. If this explanation holds water, it means that the origin events of these flood myths pre-date the earliest known forms of writing by at least as much as the writing of early known biblical texts predate the conversation we're having now.

I don't know if I "believe" it, but I definitely wouldn't bet against it. We're not talking about getting teenagers to faithfully memorize and repeat 100 generations of ancestral begats as read by Ben Stein. We're talking about compelling stories that were foundational to the mythos of who a people are and where they came from.

AnthonyMouse said 10 days ago:

> Do you know any story about your family from 300 years ago? Do you know anyone who knows (leaving aside kings and the like, where the stories are again only known from canonical origins)? Do you know the name of any of your ancestors from 4,000 years ago? The name of the place they lived in?

We have writing now though. There is much less need to spend time memorizing the oral history of your family line when it can be written down.

At a time when anything you don't teach your children and grandchildren would be lost forever, it was much more important to pass on the stories of your ancestors through oral histories.

emanuensis said 10 days ago:

Genesis is but one example of an oral folklore. All cultures had them (before writing ... which invented forgetting, ref Socrates). i would not at all be surprised if their cladogram is pushed back in time to when we shared the earth with other Homo species

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparative_mythology

ralfd said 9 days ago:

> They were possibly as smart as modern humans, had larger brains, had tools, ritual burial, weapons technologies, and art work.

But the new discovery discussed in the article throws that into question. As the Atlantic writes:

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/07/apidima-...

> The identity of Apidima 1 could also cast doubt on other archaeological finds from Europe, such as stone tools with no accompanying fossils. Researchers had long assumed that within a certain time window, “any archaeology was all the work of Neanderthals,” says Wragg Sykes. But if modern humans also occupied this “safe range,” which species actually created those artifacts?

Razengan said 10 days ago:

> Homo Erectus: 1 million B.C. to about 500,000 B.C.

Can you imagine the period of sheer..uneventfulness?

It's an indescribable unease for me, imagining a planet where nothing really happens, just animals doing their thing... Even worse if you're a semi-sapient species, with just enough awareness to know that things could be better, but not seeing any improvement in your entire life..

I mean, imagine us staying basically the same for the next 50 years, with nothing really changing in human society, let alone a 100 years, let alone a 1000...

> there were multiple species of humans in existence, of which only one survived

If there were other sentient species on this planet co-existing with us, we probably killed them all.

blisterpeanuts said 10 days ago:

Absolutely, things moved at a glacial pace back then... literally... since the Pleistocene (2.5 million BC to 11,700 BC) encompassed several ice age pulses -- freezes and thaws, over tens of thousands of years. We're currently in the thawing period of the latest ice age, by the way.

The ice ages, by the way, would have been quite intense. Over 1/3 of the Earth was covered by frozen ice caps, extending down past Britain to central Germany in Europe, and the Kansas region in the U.S. Imagine if the Arctic were that large. The habitable zones were commensurately smaller, the warm seasons were shorter, and oppressive winters were the norm. People anywhere near the ice caps would have had to adapt to the intense cold, both physiologically and technologically. If you didn't have fire and the means to hunt and take down large fur coated mammals on a regular basis, you died.

It's amazing to think that Homo Erectus, the dominant hominid circa 1 million BC, had fire and tools. They were far less advanced than H. Sapiens and H. Neanderthalensis, had smaller brains and smaller physical stature, but would have been fearsomely strong and fast nonetheless.

After half a million years, Erectus gave rise to more advanced species so some kind of change and adaptation was occurring, albeit slowly.

Razengan said 10 days ago:

On the other hand, it also sounds like paradise, untainted by sentient wills.

kevml said 10 days ago:

If someone traveled from 1200 AD to 1700 AD their lives would not be much different. The biggest change would be the New World.

If someone traveled from 1919 to 2019 their mind would be blown.

blisterpeanuts said 10 days ago:

and imagine traveling from 2019 to 2119. It will probably be almost unrecognizable to us.

My daughter was born in 2004; she might live to 2119. Almost certainly, barring accidents, will live to see the 22nd Century. I only hope that she'll like it. There are so many dystopian predictions -- nanotech killers, evil AI, war.... I just pray that the world she and future generations inherit will be worth living in.

gsich said 10 days ago:

>If someone traveled from 1919 to 2019 their mind would be blown.

Yes, but not for long.

criddell said 10 days ago:

You might enjoy Yuval Noah Harari's book Sapiens. It's written for a general audience and I got a lot out of it.

devoply said 9 days ago:

However Sapiens is not about pre-history. It's about history and written by a historian.

wazoox said 10 days ago:

Homo ergaster had its own "Out of Africa" moment several hundred thousand years earlier, and branched into several subspecies like homo erectus; up to a million years before, there was even other homo species (maybe homo habilis?) that left Africa to become for instance homo georgicus.

bhalley said 10 days ago:

https://www.stuffyoushouldknow.com/podcasts/what-happened-to...

Doesn't exactly hit your question but gives a good overview.

NeoBasilisk said 10 days ago:

On a darker note, one could almost see it as a form of mercy that none of the other species survived into the era of civilizations. Given our willingness to enslave other humans, I can only imagine what would have been done with "lesser" humans.

Taniwha said 10 days ago:

well they sort of did - modern Europeans are now acknowledged to carry some Neanderthal DNA (estimates go somewhere between 1.5-20% depending on how you count)

People who think that Neanderthals/etc were "lesser" humans (for whatever bogus reasons) probably also need to conclude (for the same reasons) that Europeans are also lesser humans

AnthonyMouse said 10 days ago:

> People who think that Neanderthals/etc were "lesser" humans (for whatever bogus reasons) probably also need to conclude (for the same reasons) that Europeans are also lesser humans

The strongest real inferiority argument is that we survived and they didn't. But if they/we are still here then that's right out the window.

said 9 days ago:
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f2f said 10 days ago:

adding australian aborigines, who some consider to be the oldest human civilization, dna-wise

https://www.history.com/news/dna-study-finds-aboriginal-aust...

Taniwha said 10 days ago:

You forget about Africa which seems to have the largest genetic diversity of Homo Sapiens (the prehistoric dispora seems to have been a genetic narrowing point) - that means wider tails on bell curves - it's why they have the tallest and shortest populations, the fastest (and probably slowest), etc etc

inawarminister said 10 days ago:

Yeah, the Khoisan seem to be the FIRST population group to diverge from mainstream homo Sapiens (or was it the other way around?), and IIRC supposedly compose half of humanity by numbers back 100,000-20,000 years ago. It seems Ice Age Central and Southern Africa were the best biome for hunting-gathering humans.

Of course, post-agriculture most humanity lives in (East and South) Asia, except in Cyrus' age where a third of humanity lives in West Asia and Eastern North Africa. Persia ruled 1/3rd of humanity then, the most out of any empire after that. Except perhaps China of some periods

ummonk said 10 days ago:

There is no such thing as oldest, dna-wise. Not like dna is frozen in time for some people but not others.

ralfd said 10 days ago:

What is meant here is "most divergent" genetics, but that sounds potentially loaded and less nice than "oldest".

See also the genetics of the San people here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_people#Genetics

kenver said 10 days ago:

You reminded me of this Sam Harris tweet https://twitter.com/samharrisorg/status/429007702803492865

One of his observations was imagining what a disaster it would have been if this finding had gone the 'other' way.

defen said 10 days ago:

Poorly-aged tweet - in Who We Are and How We Got Here Robert Reich talks about the strong evidence for the existence of a "ghost population" that interbred only with the ancestors of modern sub-Saharan Africans. It's a ghost because we don't have any physical remains like we do with Neanderthals and Denisovans, but there is an ancient genetic signature that exists only in that population.

More generally - because people use motivated reasoning, you could just as easily spin the Neanderthal finding the opposite way. "Neanderthal ancestry is a secret superpower that makes Asian and European people special!" or whatever. Once you have your conclusion, you can spin the facts to fit your narrative.

subdane said 10 days ago:

Given our propensity for war and genocide, I wonder if humans just killed off all the other near species?

mc32 said 10 days ago:

Either we outcompeted them or they were more docile and we took advantage of that, or they kept retreating till they could retreat no more (if they feared interaction).

AnthonyMouse said 10 days ago:

That's assuming homo sapiens were actually their undoing. They may have just died out on their own.

Or they haven't at all. Consider that people of European and Asian ancestry typically share some Neanderthal DNA, and the DNA difference between humans and chimpanzees is ~1%. Maybe they're just us.

jacurtis said 10 days ago:

In the beginning of Yuval Noah Harari's book Sapiens, he discusses the history of Homo neanderthalensis (Neanderthals), Homo erectus, and Homo sapiens. He discusses their history amongst eachother and why/how Homo sapiens succeeded. It then goes onto explain why Homo sapiens succeeded and grew into what humans are today (animal husbandry, agriculture, culture, industry, technology, information, etc).

maxlamb said 10 days ago:

You would probably want to read "The Journey of Man" by Spencer Wells, great book on this topic.

DrScump said 10 days ago:

There is also a good PBS miniseries of his work using the same title. One benefit is seeing his interactions with different aboriginal societies and how respectfully he treats their origin stories.

quadcore said 10 days ago:

To have a feel of long period of time, I always use one metric: my grand father. He's lived 93 years, so almost 100. 2000 years ago was then 20 grandad away. Not so long ago after all. 200K ago is 2000 grandad away. Quite some time but nothing astronomical yet.

Swenrekcah said 10 days ago:

You can also think in terms of generations. If everyone has a kid at 20 then you can draw 100 stick figures in a line to go 2000 years back. Not so long when you look at it.

eloff said 10 days ago:

So this person 200k years ago was roughly 10000 generations ago. That's long in human terms and very short in the history of the earth.

lm28469 said 8 days ago:

The entire history of mammals is already quite small when you compare it to the history of earth. Protohumans/humans history is a drop in the ocean.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Earth#/media/File...

said 10 days ago:
[deleted]
riffraff said 10 days ago:

If I recall correctly this is one measure used in one of "the science of discworld" books.

stan_rogers said 10 days ago:

...except that a "grandfather" was taken to be 50 years, since what matters is not the length of an individual life, but the time between generations (and the transmission of extelligence). James Burke used it as well in his Connections 2, noting that when his grandfather would tell him about his grandfather telling him about how things were when he was a lad, we were already back to the heart of the industrial revolution.

mariushn said 10 days ago:

Life expectancy grew in time, and also the age when having kids. The grandfather from 2000 years ago probably had kids around 20 and lived to 60.

timcederman said 10 days ago:

Average life expectancy grew, but mostly as a function of increased survival of childhood.

Numberwang said 10 days ago:

25 years is probably a better approximation than 100 years. So 8000 gr. That's a lot of people.

said 10 days ago:
[deleted]
chubasco said 10 days ago:

Does it strike anyone else as odd that the two skulls found practically "nose-to-nose" are 40,000 years apart in age? How do two humanoid skulls coincidentally end up right next to each other with 40,000 years gap between them?

EliRivers said 10 days ago:

Sea mines placed miles apart during the second world war sometimes end up settling right next to each other, several miles away. Sometimes tens of miles away. Sometimes next to a leftover mine from the first world war that arrived the same way.

The environment in which they exist subjects them to varying pressures and forces, making them move. When do they stop moving? When they reach a point at which those pressures and forces cease. That point is the same for all items that get swept there. Wait long enough, and if another one is part of the same system of forces that directs towards the same null point, it'll turn up. Happens with sea mines over the course of a few decades. Could it happen with skulls over tens of thousands of years? Sure could. Happens with lots of objects.

golemiprague said 10 days ago:

The sea has streams, land not so much

Sylamore said 10 days ago:

One of the articles I read stated they suspected the skulls were originally in different caves but had been caught in a flood that washed them into a common area.

arcadeparade said 10 days ago:

It was an ancient museum.

Jill_the_Pill said 10 days ago:

You probably mean this as a joke, but we often underestimate our ancestors who were as smart and curious as we are (and surely as dopey and uncurious as well).

riffraff said 10 days ago:

Neanderthal had rituals of some kind, maybe they just buried one of theirs with a skull s/he had found laying around?

Although I imagine the likely explanation is just that sometimes things fall next to each other.

camjohnson26 said 10 days ago:

What’s the margin of error on these dating methods? Seems like a simpler explanation is that one of the dates is wrong.

BurningFrog said 10 days ago:

It's a good burial place and/or a good place to preserve bones.

said 10 days ago:
[deleted]
zarathustraa said 10 days ago:

> When it comes to figuring out how old something is, archaeologists are interested in one element in particular: uranium.

I though fossils were dated with Carbon-14. Did that change?

ergothus said 10 days ago:

C14 dating loses precision dramatically past a certain age (~50k years, IIRC), because of the nature of half-lives. Since this is in the 200k range, C14 wouldn't be the go-to.

kwk1 said 10 days ago:

Carbon dating is merely one technique in the field of radioisotope dating.

iamgopal said 10 days ago:

It's scary what humankind set to achieve in next 210k.

sneak said 10 days ago:

Extinction?

darkpuma said 10 days ago:

Ah, a fellow optimist.

astrodust said 10 days ago:

Yeah, there's basically a zero percent chance of surviving that long intact.

If we do survive it will be by changing and adapting to the point of not being human any more.

yellowapple said 10 days ago:

I wonder if humans/hominids from 210,000 years ago had similar speculations?

trendoid said 10 days ago:

I doubt they had the ability to speculate about the future of their (or any) species.

astrodust said 8 days ago:

They weren't stupid, they just had very limited knowledge and experience to draw on, and very limited tools.

Most importantly they didn't have the ability to directly edit their own genes.

Yajirobe said 10 days ago:

> When bone is buried in the ground, it can absorb U-238 from the environment.

How? Is there traceable amount of Uranium-238 in every handful of dirt around the world?

checkyoursudo said 10 days ago:

I don't remember specifics from college, but yes, I think there is uranium pretty much everywhere. Oceans, rocks, dirt, maybe not airborne, but everywhere else.

eloff said 10 days ago:

There is actually enough in the oceans that people have proposed concentrating it for commercial extraction. Probably not viable, but surprising to think about.

bpicolo said 10 days ago:

Same goes for all sorts of elements, like Gold.

astrodust said 10 days ago:

Or mining platinum from the shoulder lane: https://hackaday.com/2016/06/06/mining-platinum-from-the-roa...

mxcrossb said 10 days ago:

It seems like it should be the opposite right? There is no uranium being exchanged with the environment after burial, so you can determine the age by how much has decayed.

JoeAltmaier said 11 days ago:

...if the DNA testing proves out. Which hasn't been done yet?

est31 said 10 days ago:
dang said 10 days ago:

Thanks. We'll merge that thread into this one.

otabdeveloper4 said 10 days ago:

Take the dates with a grain of salt.

Nobody ever got a grant or a paper published for revising towards a younger date. No discovery in that.

vkou said 10 days ago:

> Nobody ever got a grant or a paper published for revising towards a younger date.

Really? Is there a published paper with evidence supporting this claim?

rolltiide said 10 days ago:

I was wondering if there are any problems with uranium dating

jhare said 10 days ago:

Nice try, Satan. First dinosaur bones are planted to trick us, and now this?!

dang said 10 days ago:

Please don't do this here.

jhare said 10 days ago:

Chief Stick-in-the-Mud