The Arrival of Homo Sapiens
By at least 150,000 years ago our species, Homo sapiens, had evolved somewhere in Africa. Unfortunately, researchers have uncovered only a very few fossils of modern humans from the time shortly after our species emerged. Indeed, we must look outside Africa--especially in the Middle East, a region through which our ancestors undoubtedly passed on their way out of Africa--for some of the best early evidence of hominids that are clearly Homo sapiens.
Jebel Qafzeh, Israel
Some of the earliest Homo sapiens skeletons known come from the Jebel Qafzeh cave, near Nazareth, Israel, an area once occupied both by modern humans and Neanderthals. First discovered in the 1930s, these fossils were later found to date back some 93,000 years.
Researchers digging at the Jebel Qafzeh cave site in Israel discovered a double grave, perhaps of a mother and child. The capacity for ritual burial is a distinguishing trait of modern humans.
By around 100,000 years ago, Homo sapiens had spread out of Africa and reached the Middle East. Yet not all of the fossils from this time and place were members of our species.
Featured Fossil: "Old Man" of Cro-Magnon
In 1868, workers digging at Cro-Magnon, a rock shelter at Les Eyzies-de-Tayac, France, uncovered several skeletons of ancient Homo sapiens. Since that discovery, the first modern human residents of Europe have been known as Cro-Magnons.
A Separate Species?
Some of the human fossils from the Jebel Qafzeh site have a clearly modern form, but others are harder to classify. Although like typical Homo sapiens in some respects, a skull from the site has unusual features at the base and rear and a distinct and undivided browridge that is continuous across the eye sockets.