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30 August- 1 September, 2007

Modern Origins: A North African Perspective

At the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany

Organizers: Jean-Jacques Hublin & Shannon McPherron


LogoThe African origins of modern humans have been the major focus in paleoanthropology during the last two decades. Supported by growing evidence provided by genetics, paleoanthropology and prehistoric archaeology, this model has become prevalent. However, the fine mechanisms of emergence of anatomically and behaviorally modern Homo sapiens remains unknown. The small size of the effective population that gave birth to extant humankind, including recent African populations, has suggested to many the existence of a geographically limited cradle of origin. To date, its location remains speculative. A related important issue is whether or not the appearance of Homo sapiens is the result of a recent speciation event or, rather, from a gradual process. Similar questions have been raised regarding the emergence of ‘modern behaviors’. Scouting for a place of origin of modern humans, most attention has been dedicated to sub-Saharan Africa, primarily for historical reasons. However, dramatic changes in climate and landscape distribution, especially those resulting in extensions or quasi-disappearance of the Sahara may considerably bias the picture that we have today of the human occupation of Africa during the Upper Pleistocene. For obvious geographical reasons, North Africa, and particularly Northeast Africa, may have played a major role in the origin of the populations that dispersed out of Africa ca. 50,000 years ago. The goal of this meeting will be, in a multidisciplinary perspective, to explore the available archaeological, geochronological, environmental and paleoanthropological evidence provided by this important area between 200,000 and 20,000 years ago.