It’s a proven fact that humans adapt, but how did homo sapiens thrive and remain the only humans on Earth? Scientists believe that their ability to be a “general specialist” helped them survive.
Almost 80,000 years ago, Homo sapiens left Africa to look for new places to live. They easily adapted to rainforests and even to high mountains.
A Successful Colonization
Patrick Roberts is the lead author of the study and is a scientist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (Germany).
Brian Stewart is an assistant professor in the anthropology department (University of Michigan) and the co-author of the paper which was recently published in Nature Human Behaviour. He explains that homo sapiens could colonize difficult areas “by becoming much more specialist in that we focused on resources and their configurations specific to that environment.” Moreover, the fact that homo sapiens could live in different areas on the globe, it made “us a competitive advantage over other species of human.”
Stewart and Roberts examined the evidence that showed the emergence of the genus Homo all over the planet. Homo erectus chose western Asia, China, Indonesia, and Europe about 1-2 million years ago, but the species became extinct. Neanderthals settled to Eurasia 250,000 – 400,000 years ago but they didn’t thrive either.
Stewart explains that many traits that were formerly believed to be a characteristic to Homo sapiens “including complex language, symbolic use of material culture, and so on, were being exhibited by other human species, especially Neanderthals.”
This means that Homo sapiens shared the cognitive advances with the Neanderthals and that they probably had these traits from the last common ancestor – Homo heidelbergensis.
The “General Specialists”
About 12,000 – 100,000 years ago, Homo sapiens started to emerge across the world, mostly in high elevated environments, but also in tropical rainforests from Asia, the Americas, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and more.
The authors of the study believe that Homo sapiens could thrive in any kind of habitat because they were generalist specialists:
“Homo sapiens demonstrate evidence for ‘specialist’ populations, such as mountain rainforest foragers or paleoarctic mammoth hunters, existing within what is traditionally defined as a ‘generalist’ species.”
But what also helped Homo sapiens adapt to the new environment quickly was cooperation with other unrelated Homo sapiens. Stewart concludes that cultural information which enabled humans to make clothing, build shelters or find a spouse “was critical for the survival of groups in new regions.”
Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.