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Madison Mackay

ANTH 1020- Potter

Research Paper
Theories of Modern Human Origins
There are many emerging theories about the origins of modern humans. The two
main competing theories are Multi-Regional theory and Replacement theory. These two
theories are most controversial among those who are concerned with how anatomically
modern humans evolved to out-compete all other hominids (Edwards, 2012). This essay
will discuss each theory as well as which theory I think is most correct and why.
Developed by Milford Wolpoff, the multi-regional hypothesis argues that modern
humans migrated out of Africa and evolved independently in different parts of the world
(Edwards, 2012). This theory is also referred to as regional continuity. This theory
focuses on how diverse variations of species are produced by steady evolutionary
changes in different regions. Evolution of this kind is kept at a regular rate due to an
amalgamation of cultural progress and gene flow or interbreeding, thus keeping all
lineages evolving at the same time (Edwards, 2012).
The replacement theory proposes that modern humans originated in Africa
100,000-200,000 years ago and that all present human populations outside sub-Saharan
Africa are primarily descendants of a population that moved out of Africa 100,000 years
ago (Nei, 1995). This theory claims that modern humans replaced all pre-moderns
through extermination or out-competing. Replacement theory stipulates that the ancestry
of early modern populations is not among their local archaic predecessors, who often are
regarded as different human species (Walpoff, Hawks, Frayer, and Hunley, 2001).

The multi-regional theory uses evidence from the fossil records and focuses on
facial structures. For example, the Dali cranium from China appears to be modern in its
facial structure, showing highly delicate cheekbones. For a proponent of the multiregionalist theory, this indicates an intermediate stage between earlier archaic hominids
(i.e. Homo erectus found at sites such as Lantian, China) and later Holocene populations
living after 10,000 BC (Edwards, 2012). Chris Stringer, one of the creators of the
replacement theory, points out a weakness in this theory. He suggests that the physical
features used to support multi-regional theory are found all over the world; therefor these
physical features are just general Homo characteristics.
As for the replacement theory, scientists have estimated that the time of the
earliest split of the African and non-African mtDNAs as 143,000-18,000 years ago. If
we combine the estimates of splitting time from nuclear DNA and mtDNA, it seems that
the separation of non-Africans from Africans occurred at most 200,000 years ago but
probably 115,000 years ago (Nei, 1995). This evidence supports replacement theory
because the theory states that the population that later formed Europeans and Asians
moved out of Africa about 100,000 years ago. Currently, one of the oldest fossil remains
of modern humans has been found in Israel, and this could represent an ancestral
population that formed non-African populations (Nei, 1995).
One critique of replacement theory is that there is
evidence of sufficient Neanderthal features in Upper Paleolithic Europeans to
reject interpreting their variation as that of an extinct human species, because no
matter how different Neanderthals may seem, diagnostically Neanderthal anatomy
in later populations is an indication of sufficient Neanderthal ancestry to reject
such a species hypothesis (Walpoff, Hawks, Frayer, and Hunley, 2001).

These scientists that support this evidence strongly reject replacement theory, though they
dont doubt that many prehistoric groups were replaced by others.
Because there is such little supporting evidence for multi-regional theory, I
believe that replacement theory has the upper hand. The evidence that multi-regional
theory proposes have been widely discredited, leaving many weaknesses in this theory.
The most damaging critique to this theory is the fact that multi-regional theory believes in
a shared genetic lineage between archaic Neanderthals and modern humans. Genetics
have proved that this statement is false. Work on the Neander Valley skeleton and others
have demonstrated that such a link in descent does not exist. It has been widely credited
that Neanderthals did not contribute, in any case, to the human genome and therefore the
evolution of modern humans (Edwards, 2012). So because multi-regional theory lacks
significant supporting evidence I believe that replacement theory is most correct.

Edwards, Sophie. "Analysis of Two Competing Theories on the Origin of Homo Sapiens
Sapiens: Multiregional Theory vs. the Out of Africa 2 Model." Anthrojournal.
N.p., 07 July 2012. Web.
Nei, M. "Genetic Support for the Out-of-Africa Theory of Human Evolution."
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 92.15 (1995): 6720-722. Web.
Wolpoff, Milford H., John Hawks, David W. Frayer, and Keith Hunley. "Modern Human
Ancestry at the Peripheries: A Test of the Replacement Theory." Science 291.5502
(2001): 293-97. Web.