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Noon seminar - The global dispersal of Homo sapiens: An East European perspective

Monday, November 12, 2012, 12:00AM - 1:00PM


John Hoffecker



ARC room 620

Anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens) evolved in sub-Saharan Africa and subsequently dispersed into Eurasia and beyond more than 50,000 years ago. They colonized Eastern Europe, characterized by lower winter temperatures and lower primary productivity than Western Europe, more than 40,000 years ago and possibly as early as 50,000 years ago. The model of the dispersal is based largely on the genetics of living humans, but has been “ground-truthed” in a few places with the analysis of ancient DNA extracted from dated skeletal remains, including a 35,000-year-old skeleton from the central East European Plain (assigned to mtDNA haplogroup U2 [Krause et al. 2010]). Archaeological remains also provide a potential proxy for modern human population movements, although assignment of artifacts to specific hominin taxa in this context is sometimes problematic (and many artifacts previously assigned to Homo neanderthalensis may have been produced by modern humans). The archaeological data nevertheless offer information on the dispersal process that ancient DNA cannot: clues to how modern humans used technological innovation to adapt to local environments during MIS 3. East European sites to 42,000–40,000 cal BP yield evidence for sewn clothing (oldest known in western Eurasia) and devices for harvesting small mammals (and expansion of dietary niche relative to their Neanderthal predecessors). Comparative analysis of artifact assemblages suggests that these sites represent a direct movement of Homo sapiens from the Near East into Eastern Europe via the Caucasus region. An earlier movement of modern humans into Eastern Europe may have taken place during the warm GIS 12 interval (possibly via the Balkans) and with less significant technological innovation.


Free and open to the public