Eleanor Scerri: "A different view of recent human origins"
Talk abstract: The view that Homo sapiens evolved as a single population or within a particular region in Africa, and rapidly replaced other branches of the hominin tribe, is being increasingly challenged. Reconsideration of the chronology and physical diversity of Pleistocene fossils suggests that we are descended from a set of morphologically varied populations living across Africa. Similarly, genetic data are consistent with a diverse and scattered ancestry, possibly including sporadic gene flow with more divergent hominin populations in Africa. The polycentric origins and persistence of regionally distinct Pleistocene cultures also supports an emerging view of the pan-African emergence of our species. The character of this pan-African emergence has implications for how human evolution is understood: did extensive panmixia occur across Africa, or was the early prehistory of our species in Africa highly structured? How helpful is a species concept on this basis, and is it flexible enough to incorporate the real and emerging picture of human evolution? In this talk, competing models will be discussed, with implications for understanding both human origins as well as dispersals into Eurasia. Together, the balance and congruence of these data will used to prompt new questions and research directions.