Published online by Cambridge University Press: 08 September 2022
Our immediate ancestry remains uncertain at this time, but what is clear is that we are all African. This chapter will start with the current debates on the emergence of Homo sapiens and the changes we see in the subsequent 200,000 years in terms of our behavioural and cultural development. We have already shown that the ‘march of progress’ image – so culturally famous from t-shirts to posters – of a line of ever more upright and ‘civilised’ walking ape-to-man creatures is wrong. There has never been a single line, and we are not the apotheosis of evolution. A second myth is that ‘we evolved’ 200,000–300,000 years ago and since then have been static, with only technology progressing. However, humans have continued to change with time. The third conceit is the focus on ‘our’ move ‘out of Africa’ 50,000–60,000 years ago. This idea is problematic: it culturally assumes a non-African terminus as our destiny and is a very Eurocentric view of the world. It is true that a subpopulation of hunter-gather sapiens, most likely Yoruba peoples from around what is now Tanzania, left that continent at around that time, and from that group the rest of the world’s populations emerge. But this is to downplay the fact that for 80% of our species’ existence we have all been entirely African, and a genetically small subgroup left for the last 20% of that time. History is written by the ‘victors’, and much anthropology has been written by Western academia. In 2020, it was estimated that fewer than 2% of whole sequenced genomes have as yet come from Africa (Maxmen, ), and we lack ancient DNA from Africa greater than 15,000 years old (partially due to climactic reasons). However, the tide has begun to turn, and the next 10 years look very exciting in this regard.