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Homo sapiens sapiens

Homo sapiens sapiens or anatomically modern humans (referring to members of our own species who lived during prehistoric times), evolved in Africa about 200,000 years ago from archaic Homo sapiens. You belong to this species.

Archaic Homo sapiens is a loosely defined term used to describe a number of varieties of Homo, as opposed to anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens), in the period beginning 500,000 years ago. The term is typically taken to include Homo heidelbergensis, Homo rhodesiensis, Homo neanderthalensis and sometimes Homo antecessor.

Like other early humans that were living at this time, they gathered and hunted food, and evolved behaviours that helped them respond to the challenges of survival through periods of dramatic climate changes and unstable environments.

Anatomically, modern humans can generally be characterized by the lighter build of their skeletons compared to earlier humans. Modern humans have very large brains, which vary in size from population to population and between males and females, but the average size is approximately 1300 cubic centimeters. Housing this big  brain required the reorganisation of the skull into what is thought of as “modern” or thin-walled, high vaulted skull with a flat and near vertical forehead. Modern human faces also show much less (if any) of the heavy brow ridges and prognathism (protruding jaw and chin) of other early humans. Our jaws are also less heavily developed, with smaller teeth.

Fossils and DNA confirm humans are one of more than 200 species belonging to primates. Within that larger group, humans are nested within the great ape family. Although we did not evolve from any of the apes living today, we share characteristics with chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans (the great apes), as well as other apes. We most likely evolved from Homo heidelbergensis, the common ancestor we share with Neanderthals, who are our closest extinct relatives.

Swedish biologist and botanist Carl Linnaeus first described our species in 1758 but it was not customary at that time to designate type specimens. This naming came after his 1753 publication of the Species Plantarum which is accepted as the starting point of modern botanical nomenclature. According to German biologist Ernst Haeckel, the question of man’s origin began with Linnaeus. He helped future research in the natural history of man by describing humans just as he described any other plant or animal. Linnaeus classified humans among the primates and was the first person to place humans in a system of biological classification.

Following the classifications of Linnaeus, religious and theological institutions were up in arms! Firstly, putting man at the same level as monkeys or apes would lower the spiritually higher position that man was assumed to have in the great chain of being. Secondly, because the Bible says man was created in the image of God (theomorphism), if monkeys/apes and humans were not distinctly and separately designed, that would mean monkeys and apes were created in the image of God as well. This was something many could not accept then and now. The conflict between worldviews based on science and theology that was caused by asserting man was a type of animal would simmer for a century until the much greater, and still ongoing, creation–evolution controversy began in earnest with the publication of On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin in 1859.

In Europe, the early modern humans were the Cro-Magnon. Cro-Magnon 1 is a middle-aged, male skeleton of one of the first modern human fossils ever found, at Cro-Magnon, France in 1868. Scientists estimate his age at death at less than 50 years old. Other skulls such as the Omo, Hertho, Skhul, and Jebel Qafzeh remains are sometimes referred to as “Early Modern Humans” because their skeletal remains exhibit a mix of archaic and modern traits. Skhul V, for example, has prominent brow ridges and a projecting face. However the brain case of Skhul V is distinct from that of the Neanderthals and is similar to the brain case of modern humans.

The recent African origin model, holds that all or nearly all modern human genetic diversity around the world can be traced back to the first anatomically modern humans to leave Africa. This model is supported by multiple and independent lines of evidence, such as the fossil record and genetics.

In the Central Rift Valley of Kenya at Enkapune ya Muto, scientists unearthed beads made from ostritch egg shells dated to about 40,000 years ago.

Prehistoric Homo sapiens not only made and used stone tools, they also specialized them and made a variety of smaller, more complex, refined and specialized tools including composite stone tools, fishhooks and harpoons, bows and arrows, spear throwers and sewing needles. By 164,000 years ago modern humans were collecting and cooking shellfish and by 90,000 years ago modern humans had begun making special fishing tools. Then, within just the past 12,000 years, our species, Homo sapiens, made the transition to producing food and changing our surroundings. Humans found they could control the growth and breeding of certain plants and animals. This discovery led to farming and herding animals, activities that transformed Earth’s natural landscapes—first locally, then globally. As humans invested more time in producing food, they settled down. Villages became towns, and towns became cities. With more food available, the human population began to increase dramatically. We have been so successful that we have inadvertently created a turning point in the history of life on Earth. The time when humans have have began to adversely and irrevocably chang their environment and the planet through their behaviour is sometimes called the anthropocene.

Modern humans evolved a unique combination of physical and behavioral characteristics, many of which other early human species also possessed, though not to the same degree. The complex brains of modern humans enable us to interact with each other and with our surroundings in new and different ways. As the environment became more unpredictable, bigger brains helped our ancestors survive. We make specialized tools, and use tools to make other tools. We eat a variety of animal and plant foods and; we have control over fire; we live in shelters; we build broad social networks, sometimes including people we have never even met; we exchange resources over wide areas; and we create art, music, personal adornment, rituals, and a complex symbolic world. Modern humans have spread to every continent and vastly expanded our numbers. We have altered the world in ways that benefit us greatly. But this transformation has unintended consequences for other species as well as for ourselves, creating new survival challenges.

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