Did Humans Invent Modernity?

Fossil remains and genetic data suggest that modern humans come from Africa, and in the last decade anthropologists, archaeologists, linguists, and other scientists have tended to identify our species' biological origin with the origin of modern intelligence. The idea is quite simple. The process that produced our species in Africa granted it a number of advantages - syntactical language, advanced cognition, symbolic thinking - that favored its spread throughout the world and determined its eventual evolutionary success.

If, however, such advantages were dramatic and mainly determined by biological change, we should expect to find them reflected in the material culture produced by these early, anatomically modern populations. Complex technologies, regional trends in the style and decoration of tools, use of pigments, abstract and representational depiction, burials, grave goods, and personal ornaments are among the more common long-lasting creations that attest to the complex symbolic nature of ethnographically recorded human cultures.

Specifically, we should find such archeological evidence at sites in Africa from between 200,000 and 100,000 years ago. But what we see instead is a gradual emergence of behavioral innovations in and outside Africa between 300,000 and 20,000 years ago. Moreover, anatomically modern populations shared a number of these innovations with Neanderthals, which many anthropologists and geneticists consider a different species, or a human type inherently incapable of reaching our cognitive level.

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