Behaviorally Modern Humans: The Origin of Us

Event Dates: 
May 10, 2013 -
1:00pm to 5:30pm

Current evidence indicates that multiple upright-walking, tool-dependent species in the genus Homo co-existed in the Old World (Africa, Asia and Europe) for most of the last 2 million years. Yet only one surviving species of Homo exists today. Even 100,000 years ago, at least four Homo species shared the Old World. One of the enduring questions of human origins is when, where and how we "Behaviorally Modern Humans" emerged and why and how we eventually replaced all the other human-like species. In the past, competing theories have generated much controversy and even some acrimonious debate. This symposium set aside such theories and debates and took a fresh look at the situation today. The focus was on critical examination of the available evidence from multiple sources, including climate proxies, geology, fossils, archaeology, linguistics, immunology, genetics and genomics, as well as evolutionary neuroscience/cognitive archaeology. While the symposium may not have come to any definitive conclusions, it offered the best interpretation of current evidence, and suggested research agendas for the future. [DOWNLOAD ABSTRACTS AND BIO FILES BELOW]


Event Sessions

Media for each talk can be played by clicking on icons in the "Media" column, or by clicking on the individual talk titles below and then the attachment file at the bottom of the page.

Date Media Session Title Speakers Abstract
Fri 5/10 Welcome Margaret Schoeninger
Fri 5/10 File Background and Introductory Remarks Ajit Varki
Fri 5/10 File African Climate of the Last 400,000 Years Rick Potts

Given East Africa’s role in the origin of Homo sapiens, this region’s climate history deserves attention, although pertinent models are lacking. Analysis of earth’s orbital dynamics... more

Fri 5/10 File Fossil Record of Anatomically Modern Humans Chris Stringer

Evidence points strongly to Africa as the major center for the genetic, physical and behavioral origins of both ancient and modern humans, but new discoveries are prompting a rethink of some... more

Fri 5/10 File East African Archaeological Evidence Alison Brooks, Sally McBrearty

 Apart from references to the oldest fossil hominins attributed to Homo sapiens, the East African record is often ignored in current scenarios of modern human origins in favor of the much... more

Fri 5/10 File South African Archaeological Evidence Lyn Wadley

As archaeologists, we cannot access culture or cognition directly; we must interpret levels of cultural or cognitive complexity from circumstantial evidence or from technological evidence. The... more

Fri 5/10 File Interbreeding with Archaic Humans in Africa Michael Hammer

Early research on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) had a decisive role in the long-standing paleontological debate over human origins by providing a relatively simple picture of human evolutionary... more

Fri 5/10 File Relationships of Ancient African Languages Christopher Ehret

Almost all of the more than 1,000 African languages spoken today belong to just four families, Afroasiatic, Niger-Kordofanian, Nilo-Saharan, and Khoesan. Each family is relatively ancient, with... more

Fri 5/10 File Evidence for the Spread of Modern Humans Ofer Bar-Yosef

The presentation will briefly summarize the archaeological evidence for the dispersals of modern humans into Eurasia avoiding the assumptions that these events, whether short or continuous, were... more

Fri 5/10 File Interbreeding with Archaic Humans Outside Africa Richard Green

Neanderthals and Denisovans are the closest extinct ancestors of modern humans. High-quality genome sequence is now available from both and has revealed multiple instances of admixture between... more

Fri 5/10 File Stone Tools and Cognition: Lessons from Australia Iain Davidson


In this talk I will address four topics: What is cognition?; Can we learn anything from brains?; What was the cognitive ability of the Last Common Ancestor?; and, How can we learn from... more

Fri 5/10 File Wrap-Up and Overview Alison Brooks
Fri 5/10 File Question and Answer Session Ajit Varki, Alison Brooks
Fri 5/10 Closing Remarks Fred Gage