The Peopling of Britain: The Shaping of a Human Landscape

By Paul Slack; Ryk Ward | Go to book overview

2
The Homo Sapiens Peopling of Europe

Paul Mellars

THE origin of our own species, Homo sapiens, has sometimes been described as 'the hottest topic in palaeoanthropology' (Shreeve 1995). Lively debate has surrounded this issue throughout this century and the debate continues, if in a slightly more muted form, down to the present. Indeed in some ways recent discoveries have tended to fuel the debate. Needless to say the issues extend far beyond the realms of Europe, but the evidence from Europe itself remains critical to many aspects of these debates, owing to the exceptional detail and clarity of the relevant archaeological and human skeletal records in many parts of the continent. The approach I wish to adopt here is to look first at the evidence for the initial appearance of fully Homo sapiens populations in Europe generally, and then to extend this focus, more briefly, to other regions. As we shall see, the evidence from Britain itself inevitably forms only a small part of this picture, but one which adds some important elements to the wider international perspective.


THE EVOLUTIONARY PERSPECTIVE

The long-running debates over modern human origins reduce essentially to two sharply polarized perspectives (Stringer and Gamble 1993; Stringer and McKie 1996; Wolpoff and Caspari 1997). On the one hand is the so-called 'multi-regional evolution' or 'regional continuity' model, which asserts that in effectively all parts of the old world there was an essentially continuous, gradual process of both biological and cultural evolution from the various Homo erectus-like populations which first spread from Africa over a million years ago, and which eventually led to the emergence of fully modern populations within each region—though with a good deal of peripheral gene flow between the different regional populations

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