Ancient history

homo sapiens

The fossilized remains of different individuals found in 1997 near the town of Herto, in Ethiopia, testify that, about 160,000 years ago, human beings very similar to us already existed in Africa. According to the data handled by scientists, Homo sapiens , the subspecies to which we all belong, would have appeared between 200,000 and 160,000 years ago. And it certainly did so in the same regions where hominids had adopted bipedal walking more than 4 million years ago, and where, for the first time, a human-like species first learned to make tools, 2.5 million years ago. years.

Characteristics of Homo Sapiens

With a larger cranial volume - between 1,500 and 1,600 cm3 - a higher forehead -without supraorbital arch-, a short jaw, small teeth and a pronounced chin, the appearance of the new hominid was completely different from that of its ancestors and relatives. It already possessed a great capacity for the association of ideas and for speech, derived from its cranial architecture, and this, without a doubt, gave it a certain advantage over the archaic subspecies of Homo sapiens with which it came to live and over which, genetically, it ended up prevailing.
Thanks to its ability to adapt, its cultural superiority and its evolved social organization, the population of Homo sapiens it soon began to grow and successfully expand to other regions of Africa and Eurasia. In Palestine, for example, there are remains of modern humans dating back 100,000 years, and in Europe, the oldest evidence, located in the Balkan area, is from about 40,000 years ago,
But unlike Homo erectus , which had also migrated to these regions nearly a million years earlier, Homo sapiens it left the Old World for the first time and, penetrating lands never trodden by another hominid, colonized Oceania - about 55,000 years ago - and even the American continent -about 40,000 years ago approximately-.
In paleontology, the cultures developed by these societies of genetically modern men fall within the so-called Upper Paleolithic, a period of prehistory characterized by the appearance of the first artistic manifestations, by the creation of new specialized stone and bone tools, by the manufacture of composite tools and for the awakening of religious beliefs.

TheAfricanEve, Theoriesoftheoriginofman

Of all the existing theories about the origins of modern man, the one that seems to have more credibility is the one that advocates the so-called substitution model , that is, the appearance of Homo sapiens on the African continent and its subsequent expansion throughout the rest of the planet. Its defenders, among whom Cavalli Sforza stands out, have shown with genetic studies that, unlike what is proposed by the multi-regional model , racial diversity, already defined at the end of the Upper Paleolithic, was due to environmental climatic adaptations, and not to significant biological differences. Thus, all human beings would be descendants of a mitochondrial Eve African.

An abrupt substitution

The arrival of modern man in Europe - the so-called Cro-Magnon man , in relation to some remains found in this French town- took place during the Würm glaciation, although in an interval of temperate climate that mediated between the two cold phases of this period. Its rapid penetration into the continent, populated until then by Neanderthals, was probably from east to west, the Mediterranean regions being colonized first - between 40,000 and 35,000 BC. C – and, later, large areas of Central and Atlantic Europe.
Despite the fact that the information available on the Upper Palaeolithic is much more detailed than that corresponding to the Middle or Lower Palaeolithic – not only due to the number of deposits, but also due to the reliability of the tests carried out with Carbon 14 -, how was it produced? the substitution of Homo sapiens neanderthalensis by Homo sapiens it remains a mystery. There is evidence that both subspecies coincided in the same scenario for about 10,000 years, but it is unknown, for example, if there was a certain degree of genetic transmission due to the mixing of the groups or what were the factors that determined the superiority of the newcomers compared to the original settlers.
In most of Europe, paleontologists have observed a sharp break between the lyrical industries of the Mousterian - those related to the Neanderthals - and those of the Aurignacian - the first cultural complex of modern Homo sapiens -. The exception is some remote areas, where remains have appeared of what are considered transitional cultures between the world of the Neanderthals and that of the Cro-Magnons -this is the case of the Castelperronian lithic complex, typical of France and northwestern Spain-.

Tools and utensils

Upper Palaeolithic tools, in this sense, were made primarily of stone, although in this period they were made using more advanced techniques and for more precise purposes than in the past. On the other hand, there was also an increase in instruments made from the bones, antlers and ivory of hunted animals. All these tools, once again, have served prehistoric researchers as an essential guide to be able to classify numerous cultures that, in this case, thanks to radiocarbon, it is possible to include in a much more detailed and complete chronological scheme than the one corresponding to the oldest and rarest episodes of the Lower Paleolithic.

Feeding and survival of Homo Sapiens

During the Upper Palaeolithic, hunting continued to occupy a prominent place among the activities carried out by human societies. The continuous climatic changes and the disparity of existing environments, however, caused that, little by little, the groups of Homo sapiens had to specialize in the capture of a certain type of prey and that they began to develop new economic practices. Thus, in Western Europe, many communities based their survival on reindeer hunting, while in the cold steppes of Russia, mammoth hunting continued for a long time. In the Mediterranean region, where large mammals were increasingly scarce, the benefits of living near rivers and the coast were soon discovered, and fishing and mollusc gathering began to be practiced frequently.

Weapons used for hunting

The new subsistence strategies had a decisive influence on the improvement of weapons and, in this way, at the end of the Upper Paleolithic -coinciding with the last moments of the Ice Age-, the manufacture of smaller spearheads -with geometric shapes regular - and propellants to throw this weapon with greater power and a great distance. It is also at this time that the first toothed harpoons appear, used mainly for fishing, and the most primitive bows and arrows on record. It is also believed that it was in the last phases of the Paleolithic that nets began to be woven and hooks and lines to be made.

First settlements

The settlements, like the economy, also tended to diversify, although they never lost their temporary nature derived from the nomadic way of life. Thus, along with the traditional use of caves and natural shelters in the Mediterranean region, the reindeer hunters of the French Dordogne, like the human communities of Central and Eastern Europe, built circular, semi-buried or at ground level tents with the skins. ground, allowing them to quickly set up and break down their camps based on pack movement.

Population of Homo Sapiens

Thanks to its cultural development and its enormous capacity to adapt to all kinds of climatic and environmental conditions. the Homo sapiens it soon spread across the five continents. Calculations indicate that, around 20,000 years ago, around 10 million human beings may already have existed on the entire planet.

In the footsteps of our ancestors

The Diaspora of modern sapiens could have its origin in a progressive increase in the population and its dependence on hunting. The need to follow herds of mammoths, for example, was probably what brought him to America.

  1. Middle East . Modern man left Africa through the Eastern Levant. Remains dating back about 100,000 years have been found in the Skul and Qafeeh caves.
  2. Europe . Unlike what happens in the rest of the world, the European Upper Paleolithic, which begins in 40,000 a. C, is profusely documented. Chauvet Caves (France).
  3. Italy . In RiparoTagliente, in Veneto, Neanderthals were replaced by Homo sapiens around 35,000 BC C. The place was populated until 12,000 a. C. approximately.
  4. North Africa . In Libya, the first evidence of a human population dates back to 38,000 BC. There, the cave art would not appear until 10,000 BC
  5. North America . Although it is believed that Homo sapiens had to reach America in the glacial period, the remains of the first northern cultures, such as Clovis, are from 10,000 BC
  6. South America . Interestingly, the oldest deposits in America are found in Chile and Brazil. The remains of Pedra Furada in Brazil date back to 15,000 BC
  7. Australia . Although it is believed that the arrival of modern Homo sapiens was earlier:the Australian ancestor Mungo Man dates from 32,000 BC


The technological and economic changes recorded during the Upper Palaeolithic, easily perceptible when analyzing the material remains of the time, were undoubtedly accompanied by a profound transformation of social relations and beliefs. Unfortunately, there are no records of these changes that can be consulted and, therefore, the theories in this regard are only based on the interpretations that have been made of the few but extraordinary samples of Paleolithic art, as well as the study of the groups of hunter-gatherers who, confined to inhospitable regions of the planet, have survived to the present day -this is the case of the Kalahari bushmen, a people with 20,000 years of history-.
The best proof of the decisive intellectual development of Homo sapiens, however, lies in its evident success in adapting and, consequently, in its survival. Genetically, nothing differentiates us from those "Cro-Magnon men" who arrived on the European continent approximately 40,000 years ago.


European Upper Palaeolithic cultural complexes

Initial Period

40,000 – 26,000 BC Aurignacense complex . In addition to stone tools -especially blades-, bone tools -assegais- and reindeer antlers appear. From Ukraine to the Iberian Peninsula.
31,000 – 20,000 BC C. Gravettian complex . It happens little by little to the previous one. The laminar-type tips with retouched edges and those made of bone or ivory stand out. Bow and arrows. Female statuettes and reliefs.

Average period

20,000 -15,000 BC C. Solutrean complex . Present in France and Spain. It coincides with the coldest phases of Würm. Great finishing tools, such as retouched surface tips. Engraved slabs.

Late period

20,000 -10,000 BC C. Epigravettian complex . Continuer of the Gravettian tradition in Italy, the Balkans and Eastern Europe. First pierced bone needles.
20,000 -10,000 BC C. Italic Epigravettian complex. One of the regional divisions of the previous one, with influences from the Magdalenian. Statuettes and «batons of command». Rock breaks and engravings.
18,000 -10,000 BC C. Magdalenian complex Widespread in western and central Europe. Bone harpoons, darts, arrows, sewing needles and hooks. Great works of rock art -Lascaux and Altamira, for example-.
10,000 BC C. End of the Würm glaciation and the Paleolithic. Start of the transition period to the Neolithic, called Epipaleolithic or Mesolithic.

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