Fossil evidence and studies of our genes show that our own species—Homo sapiens—evolved in Africa some 200,000 years ago. Around 60,000 years ago, modern humans spread from Africa to new continents, taking with them tools, art, and a way of life more advanced than anything seen before. As our species spread, other more primitive humans and many large mammal species vanished—perhaps victims of our success.
Homo sapiens (HOE-moe SAP-ee-enz)
■ When: 200,000 years ago to now (Neogene)
■ Fossil location: Worldwide, except for Antarctica and some remote islands
■ Habitat: Nearly all land habitats
■ Height: 6 ft (1.8 m)
Compared to other apes and primitive humans, Homo sapiens has a small, flat face; a high forehead; a huge, balloon-shaped braincase; small brow ridges; and a prominent chin. Most importantly, our species has a large and complex brain. Intelligence allowed our ancestors to devise ingenious new hunting tools, build shelters, make clothes, and harness fire. Language allowed them to pool knowledge and share skills.
Early Homo sapiens lived in complex societies in which people looked after their sick and left offerings in graves—a sign they believed in an afterlife.
Early Homo sapiens was a much more skillful toolmaker than other hominins (human relatives). As early as 73,000 years ago, humans in southern Africa were carving finely made tools from bone and making jewelry from shells. By 18,000 years ago, humans in Europe were using bone, ivory, and caribou antlers to make spear throwers, harpoons, and even needles. Many of these were engraved with artistic designs, such as animal heads:
The Bushmen of southern africa follow a way of life known as hunter-gathering. Instead of keeping livestock for food or growing crops, their gather all their food from the wild. All early Homo sapiens were hunter-gatherers, too. This way of life did not begin to die out until farming began about 8,000 years ago.
BUSHMEN ROCK ART
The rock art of the native people of southern Africa (Bushmen) was made in the same way as the ancient cave paintings of ice-age France (search the article named “Cave paintings”), but Bushman rock art is only a few hundred years old. It shows magical ceremonies such as dances in which healers are at work.