The most frequently asked question about human origins is, what has changed in the human genetic makeup so that we have diverged from the animals we are descended from? Or, how could we demonstrate the way we emerged as a modern population, where we come from and how we relate to our ancestors? With these questions, the general public pushes anthropologists to unlock the great mysteries of humanity. The questions include an assumption about our roots, which I will address now: is there an ancestor that gives our species the right to appear above all other species?
Romanticism versus realism
The measuring of human skulls is an essential part of paleoanthropology. However, that should be seen as a remnant of past romanticism to prove the priority of humans compared to other creatures. The ideology still lives on, although its allure is gradually fading. Discoveries still get attention in the media, but the fact that significant questions remain unanswered reduces the common interest. Although the old colonial romantic dream that paleoanthropology could confirm human superiority seems to be slipping further away, scientists have not given up. They must explain why there is no certainty about the origins and why the research must be carried on.
The reality is that there is no such answer that could satisfy the romance-starved audience. There is simply not enough evidence for human speciation. That’s a fact. Academics no longer dare to talk about the “missing link” that would explain our origins. Instead, the name has been changed to “virtual last common ancestor of all living humans”. The “missing link” is no longer favoured by anthropologists because it suggests that the evolutionary process is linear and that species arise one after the other in a chain of evolution. Instead, the “virtual last common ancestor of all living humans” does not bear the connotation of linear evolution but allows it to branch out. Nevertheless, the terms mean practically the same. It’s as if the academics don’t question the ancient romantic worldview but still consider it a scientific fact.
The scholarly debate about human origins is going on now between the so-called Pan-African and single-origin models. I admit that human origins can be thought of through a common ancestor, but strictly speaking, that’s only part of the story. First, it alone does not explain anything because the significant changes in our ancestors during that time 300,000–60,000 YA were only quantitative, not qualitative. The new African multi-region theory (man originated in Africa, but not from one, but several places in Africa) is not necessarily wrong but is irrelevant. Humans must have been born in one process, even though it has been a long one. These humans lived fighting against nature for tens of thousands of years. It was a struggle for survival, which is why it was also a struggle against nature and adaptation.
Human origins as speciation?
Why does it seem the emergence of humans repeatedly remains a mystery despite all the archaeological material? Well, I have an answer for that. The study of human origins is facing stagnation because scholars study homo sapiens as a uniquely evolved species. Our origins is only a matter of speciation. However, it is disputable whether modern humans can be considered “advanced”, or whether they are a new species at all or a product of natural selection. These are the pillars on which the romantic science of paleoanthropology is based. Academics try to explain the wrong thing, use improper methods and look for the explanation in the wrong place. What a mess!
Underlying all complex theories, there is a fundamental and more than a 100-year-old assumption about human origins as speciation. But, from my point of view, it seems that the origin of man is not macroevolutionary but microevolutionary! Therefore, human origins is not about fossils, and it cannot be solved solely by paleoanthropological studies. As sexy as it is to study skeletons and human skulls, human anatomy seems to be a side effect of microevolution. It only reflects intraspecific changes in the psyche of the human species.
The impact of genes and ecosystems on evolutionary change is often forgotten because they do not indicate speciation as prominently as human skulls. That is why human studies have paid more attention to species and speciation than the exceptional individuality of modern humans. From a microevolutionary point of view, modern humans are not a new species but rather a crowd of individuals, a modification of Heidelbergs.
Macroevolution or microevolution?
So, for example, I can’t take a stand on RAO (Recent African Origin) theories because the genetic defect hypothesis I prefer does not consider the emergence of humans as a question of speciation. However, I could comment on the time and place questions related to the human origins from the point of view of microevolution. In that respect, the multi-region hypothesis is not a likely option because it would have required similar, i.e., approximately equally challenging ecological and intraspecific conditions everywhere in the human habitat.
Even if I could show evidence to prove the emergence of our own “species” (population) as a single-origin event, that would hardly satisfy any paleoanthropologist. That would only mean that no new species was born in the process; only the old species lost features (genetic loss). The gene defect, i.e., the appearance of an alternative gene allele 2–3 million years ago, was the first step in the microevolution leading to modern humans. It produced one specific evolutionary novelty, manifested in the emergence of stone axes. So, our most essential origins date back 2-3 million years. From which species we inherit our other characteristics is pure chance. Other human species would likely have evolved in the same direction if they had shared the same fate.
“Who was the last common ancestor of Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens? Until recently, the story of our origins was thought to have been settled: Homo sapiens evolved in east Africa about 150,000 years ago, became capable of modern behavior some 60,000 years ago and then swept out of Africa to colonize the world, completely replacing any archaic humans in our path. But new fossils, tools and analysis of ancient and modern genomes are tearing apart that simple story. Indeed, The out-of-Africa paradigm has become so entrenched, that it is easy to forget how new the hypothesis is. There was some debate about where modern humans appeared, and ideas were floating around of a recent African origin, but the fossil record seemed to support a model called African multi-regionalism. This theory argued that archaic humans were distributed across Africa and Eurasia at least a million years ago and evolved in parallel into modern humans.” [Highly Compelling]
From my point of view, humanity is not a species trait but an inherited individual characteristic, which nevertheless follows the laws of genetics. Human-like anatomical features (brain size, small brow ridge, flat face, smaller teeth, etc.) do not come from adaptation but rather from the human tendency to fight against adaptation. They were influenced by the extended childhood of the early human species. The sexual selection of those carrying a genetic defect was the primary influence. Modern human traits spread across species and populations to the extent of how genetic defect occurs in them.
The features were also inherited by individuals whose behaviour did not show a corresponding phenotype, so even if modern anatomy and modern behaviour did not go hand in hand in the phenotype, they were still connected (this is the domain of population genetics). There was also the consequence that the anatomically modern traits did not contribute to the survival of the behaviourally normal because they only supported the survival of the psychologically juvenile individuals. The anatomically modern features increasing in small steps in the human family tree signify a couple of million years of resistance to adaptation.
The increase in youthful characteristics can be seen with the naked eye from the archaeological evidence—the ones describing supposedly human “development”. But unfortunately, anthropology focuses on classifying practically only anatomically modern features using them to prove the adaptation, speciation, natural selection, and macroevolution of the genus homo. It’s a tough road, and I think that only leads to a dead end.
I’m inclined to argue that humanity can be explained by one trait and that that same trait influenced how we’ve evolved. The idea of a cognitively affecting genetic defect assumes that humanity has not only been a characteristic of modern humans but the entire genus homo. In other words, all the features we have in common with homo habilis, homo erectus, and other homo species are due to a single gene defect we all share. Yes, I am talking about microevolution.
I am convinced this connection is the easiest way to decode for similarities between the human species. Of course, we also had differences, but they were because the gene defect was just a part of the story. Because the defect was caused most likely by a recessive gene, it did not cover the whole population, just a few individuals (0–10% is my guess). But these individuals were precisely the ones who left traces of themselves in the archaeological records. Ignoring this creates a significant bias — species are studied only based on the archaeological material left behind by exceptional individuals. I am convinced normal individuals left no traces.
Without stone tools, it would probably be impossible to determine when the genetic defect appeared for the first time and how it spread in populations. The thing we call “humanity” is a mental-based genetic defect, 2-3 million years of age. What separates us from archaic humans is that modern humans can not escape the genetic defect, while in previous species, it only appeared rarely and randomly.
We share the same flaw with archaic humans, which explains the gradual increase of child-like features across the human species. That calls for explaining why and how the genetic defect took over the entire modern human population. I apply bottleneck and genetic drift to explain that. The answers are not to be found within the species but outside in the climatic conditions. It is also worth noting that this change was no longer qualitative but quantitative.
My hypothesis explains why we cannot view the actions of archaic humans from the perspective of modern humans. The ancient humans had no cultures because their populations were not homogeneous; the traces of the rebellious phenotype could not be taken as a species trait until quantitative change harmonised the population having all the same defect. This is not taken into account by paleoanthropologists.
It is reasonable to assume that the cause of both migration waves (Out of Africa I and Out of Africa II) was the same, even though the time and species were different. A genetic defect can easily explain the first and the last wave of migration out of Africa. In fact, it strongly suggests that we inherited the trait (in a genetic defect) from the early human species.
“Recent African origin,” or Out of Africa II, refers to the migration of anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens) out of Africa after their emergence at c. 300,000 to 200,000 years ago, in contrast to “Out of Africa I”, which refers to the migration of archaic humans from Africa to Eurasia roughly 1.8 to 0.5 million years ago.” [Wikipedia]
Unless paleoanthropology gives up the romantic notion that idealises the human species, seeking the origin of man at the level of macroevolution, understanding human emergence through a mental-based genetic defect will always be “wrong”. However, it seems pretty clear that macroevolution cannot explain the emergence of the human species. So why get stuck on it? We can easily explain it with two minor events. First, the emergence of human traits (the phenotype not adapted to nature) and second, the emergence of the modern population in the ancient climate crisis are two separate things. They do not explain each other and are hardly even related. This is the magic trick of human emergence. Skulls are not the best target for looking for humanity. Human anatomy reflects a more fundamental change in the ancient mind.
Paleoanthropology also confuses individual human characteristics with species traits. Anthropologists are clearly wrong when they claim that early humans had cultures. Cultures can only exist in populations that are homogenous in terms of modern human characteristics. That was not the case for millions of years. Modern behavioural traits cannot straightforwardly be derived from anatomy. Models such as the virtual last common ancestor of all living humans only talk about the change at a particular moment but do not explain it. Without an interpretive framework, the outcomes provided by genetics have no real meaning in explaining human origins.
Modelling human evolution based on DNA diversity is challenging if the assumptions about human behaviour are vague or completely missing in some respects. For example, to the extent that the models do not consider microevolution—the unexpected inheritance of the phenotype leading to modern humans in populations and thus the effect of the constantly changing relationship of two simultaneously occurring but different phenotypes on demography—the results can only be indicative.
Human origins is also related to the concept of the so-called “human revolution”, according to which archaic humans were supposed to be mentally less developed than modern humans until they reached their current mental capacity only about 50,000 years ago. This notion mistakes qualitative change for quantitative change. This “human revolution” was only an intraspecies change.
So what is wrong with my hypothesis? That I am not a romantic colonialist? I don’t think it has anything to do with the facts.
Let me know if you disagree—and you probably do.