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Out of Africa

23 March 2018

Chris Catling, in World Current Archaeology 88 sets his eye on recent DNA research. In issue 85 he drew attention to the lack of a consensus among archaeologists over the dates for the evolution of modern humans and the first Out of Africa migration (as new finds were pushing dates earlier and earlier). In issue 88 Professor Israel Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University was involved in the the discovery of a jawbone in a cave on Mount Carmel dating back 177,000 years ago. This tells us, he says, our ancestors left Africa a lot earlier than 60,000 years ago – up to 200,000 years ago (a considerable difference). Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London, welcomed the new discovery and said it was important in removing a long lasting constraint on our thinking (the idea of a fairly recent Out of Africa). Hershkovitz goes further and says Out of Africa should be abandoned. He says he did not believe there was long big Exodus out of Africa and humans were coming and going into and out of Africa for hundreds of thousands of years.

It is all a bit like the eventual collapse of the Clovis First archaeological paradigm. People found it difficult to let go – especially people that had spent a career clinging to the idea and rejecting outright any kind of watering down. We may imagine there will be a lot of resistance to abandoning Out of Africa as it is so ingrained – and people are loathe to reject what they were taught at college and university, and have believed faithfully for a number of years.

Catling ends by saying, the human tree was so much simpler before DNA came along to puncture the old consensus view – but nothing like as interesting.

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