Emergence of Modern Humans in Africa

Discoveries that reveal how the earliest modern humans evolved before and after the great diaspora out of Africa

►Early Modern Humans 

A major transdisciplinary project on the south coast of South Africa is producing an unprecedentedly complete record of late Pleistocene (120,000 to 60,000 years ago) environmental and archaeological data bearing on the origin and early behavioral evolution of modern humans.

In 2001, IHO made a major commitment to modern human origins and archaeological research by recruiting Curtis Marean. He brought to IHO a research project based on the south coast of South Africa that attempts to produce and integrate a climate, environment, and paleoanthropological sequence for the final stage in human evolution.

Research Projects

Mossel Bay Archaeology Project is a long-term field study of the Middle Stone Age of southern Africa shedding light on the early occurrence of modern human behavior, such as symbolic expression, the strategic exploitation of marine food resources, and the early use of fire to improve the quality of stone-tool flaking.

Paleoclimatic and Paleoenvironmental Context of the Origins of Modern Humans in South Africa, which, through exploration, excavation, and cutting-edge lab analysis, is developing the first continuous sequence of African environmental change from 400 to 30 kyr ago—a period of profound climatic oscillation and evolutionary innovation in the human lineage.

Geographical and Ecological Origins of Modern Humans in Southern Africa through multidisciplinary field and lab research on the ecology, fossil record, and genetics of the unique fynbos Cape floral kingdom. 

Major Funding

National Science Foundation, IPG Program ($1,000,000). 2011–2015.
Developing and Testing an Integrated Paleoscape Model for the Early Middle and Late Pleistocene of the South Coast of South Africa.
PIs: C.W. Marean (lead), R. Cowling, K. Hill, and J. Franklin.

National Geographic Society ($47,905). 2011.
Follow the Coast: Marine Geophysical Study of Early Human Use of the Continental Shelf of the South Coast, South Africa.
PIs: C.W. Marean (lead), E. Fischer, and H. Cawthra.

National Research Foundation (South Africa) ($66,000). 2011.
Geophytes and Human Origins.
Co-PIs: K. Esler, C. Witthuhn, and C.W. Marean.

ASU Intellectual Fusion Investment Fund: Late Lessons from Early History Transdisciplinary Research Initiative ($400,000). 2008–2012.
Explaining a Confluence of Diversity and Complexity: Paleoanthropological and Paleogenetic Investigations of Fynbos, Marine Ecosystems, and Human Origins. School of Human Evolution and Social Change.
Co-PIs: K. Reed and C.W. Marean. 

Hyde Family Foundation ($575,000). 2006–2013.
The Mossel Bay Archaeology Project (MAP): A Long-Term Plan for Research into the Origins of Modern Human Behavior.
PI: C.W. Marean.

National Science Foundation Hominid Program ($2,500,000). 2005–2010.
Paleoclimatic and Paleoenvironmental Context of the Origins of Modern Humans in South Africa: Constructing a Detailed Record from 400,000 to 30,000 Years Ago.
PI: C.W. Marean.

National Science Foundation ($240,000). 2002–2005.
Excavations at Cave 13B, Pinnacle Point, Mossel Bay, South Africa: Faunal Exploitation, Raw Material Procurement, and Organization of Domestic Space during the Middle Stone Age.
PI: C.W. Marean.

Notable Publications

When the Sea Saved Humanity (print edition cover story).
C.W. Marean. Scientific American. August 2010.
With interactive website: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=interactive-seas-saved-humanity.

Introduction to the Special Issue: The Middle Stone Age at Pinnacle Point Cave 13B, South Africa.
Guest Editor of Special Issue: C.W. Marean. Journal of Human Evolution. 2010. 59: 231–445.

Pinnacle Point Cave 13B (Western Cape Province, South Africa) in context: The Cape Floral Kingdom, shellfish, and modern human origins.
C.W. Marean. Journal of Human Evolution. 2010. 59: 425–443.

Fire as an engineering tool of early modern humans.
K.S. Brown, C.W. Marean, A.I.R. Herries, Z. Jacobs, C. Tribolo, D. Braun, D. L. Roberts, M.C. Meyer, and J. Bernatchez. Science. 2009. 325: 859–862.

Early human use of marine resources and pigment in South Africa during the Middle Pleistocene.
C.W. Marean, M. Bar-Matthews, J. Bernatchez, E. Fisher, P. Goldberg, A.I.R. Herries, Z. Jacobs, A. Jerardino, P. Karkanas, T. Minichillo, P.J. Nilssen, E. Thompson, I. Watts, and H. M. Williams. Nature. 2007. 449: 905–908.