Popular Science

A primer on the primal origins of humans on Earth

Our history is complicated. Our pre-history, even more so.

cleaning a skull

Where did we come from? Archeologists and anthropologists are trying to figure that out.

How on Earth did we get here? No, not whatever political or environmental or existential crisis just sprung into your mind. How did we, as humans, end up where we are today?

Discoveries pushing back milestones in human development happen all the time. That can get confusing. So here’s a very basic (but not brief) cheat sheet of the current research and findings—for the next time the origin of humanity comes up during happy hour.

bones from morocco

Stone age burial from Morocco.

Abdeljalil Bouzouggar

How did we spread around the world?

The oldest fossils of humans and their relatives show up in Africa, where they’ve been preserved for thousands or even millions of years. But while Africa has earned its popular designation as the Cradle of Humankind, it's not as if our ancient ancestors stayed confined to the nursery for long.

Researchers think that modern humans and other hominins left via the Middle East, taking advantage of the land bridge between Eurasia and Africa. But how much connection there was between these different areas is still a matter for debate.

In a new study in , archeologist Johannes Krause and colleagues from Morocco to see where they might have come from. They were associated with a group that researchers thought might have European roots, potentially crossing. But that story wasn’t holding up as we got more evidence.

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