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Medha Mayawala

Anthropology 1020-Human Origins

Professor. Teresa Potter

There are two main theories about the origin of modern humans. These two theories are

Regional Continuity and the Replacement theory. The Regional Continuity theory, also known as

multiregional theory, was put forward by Milford H. Wolpoff. According to Regional

Continuity, our ancestors migrated from Africa over a million years ago and from there they

spread out all over the world. They adapted themselves to the regional environment,

intermingled with populations across a large area, and became the local populations across Asia

and Europe. This widespread migration from Africa to all over the world resulted in a steady

evolution of the new species simultaneously all over the world. According to multiregional

theory, after migrating from Africa the evolution process took in different parts of the world. M.

H. Wolpoff explained his theory of regional continuity as, pebbles thrown into a pond, causing a

ripple effect resulting in similar physical traits in populations across different regions. (Wolpoff,


This theory stresses the importance of constant adaptations to regional populations and

resulting in diverse variations of the species. According to multiregional theory modern human

beings developed in different parts of the world from Homo sapiens who in turn had descended

from Homo erectus that had migrated from Africa and settled all over the world. The supporters

of multi-regional evolution compare the fossils of humans to show the differences in physical

features of human fossils found in one region to fossils found in another region. They also
compare the physical differences between populations during modern times to support their

theory. Milford Wolpoff believed that migration and the resulting exchange of genetic traits

between populations resulted in the evolution of a species in the same overall direction. This

kind of evolution grew at a steady pace because of the combination of cultural progress and

interbreeding or gene flow. This led to all species evolving at the same time. This process is also

called parallel evolution.

Franz Weindenreich a German anthropologist also observed that human races have

evolved independently from Homo erectus to Homo sapiens while simultaneously there was a

gene flow between populations from different regions. He called his theory Polycentric

evolution. Weindenreich studied the fossils of Peking man which was unearthed in China. He

observed that the Peking man had many anatomical characteristics that were similar to modern


The other theory is the Replacement theory. According to this theory modern humans

evolved not very long ago in Africa. They migrated to Europe and Asia and replaced all

populations in that area. (Stringer and Andrews 1988). The proponents of this theory believe that

after migrating from Africa, they spread to different parts of the world and became isolated.

They did not interbreed and evolved independently, into separate species. Supporters of this

theory believe that modern humans evolved from a single group of Homo sapiens. They came to

this conclusion based on genetic studies and fossil evidence. According to them modern humans

evolved from Homo sapiens as recently as 60,000 to 125,000 years ago. These isolated species

called Neanderthals had unique anatomical features like large, low cranial arch, double arched

brow ridge, large molars, severely worn incisors, shorter fore arms and legs. (Johanson, Donald)

A study done by analyzing mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and Y chromosome DNA of

aboriginal Australians and Melanesians from New Guinea by a research team led by Dr. Peter

Forster, showed that there has only been a single successful migration from Africa around 60,000

years ago. This data was compared with DNA patterns of early humans. The results showed that

both aboriginals and Melanesians shared the genetic features with the population that left Africa

50,000 years ago. Thus proving very little gene flow from the time of the original migration.

This study showed that all mitochondrial DNA came from one woman and she lived in Africa

around 200,000 years ago. She came to be known as “Mitochondrial Eve” or “African Eve”.

A study done by biologist Andrea Manica and her team from University of Cambridge,

compared male skulls from different parts of the world. They found that the cranial shape of the

skull was only found in skulls from Africa. Another research in 1579 done with female skulls

proved the same thing. These skulls shared the same features as the Neanderthals. No other

region outside of Africa shared the same characteristics, thus proving strongly in favor of Out-of-

Africa evolution theory.

Even though there is genetic and archeological evidence for both theories, I personally

believe in Out-of-Africa theory. There is evidence that supports the Replacement theory, such as

the DNA research showing the similarities between Neanderthals and modern humans. This is

the basis of my choice, because there is proof of similarities between the two. The DNA test

gives some kind of physical proof that modern humans originated from a common ancestor,

referred to as “Mitochondrial Eve”. There is sufficient evidence to show that she lived in Africa.

Also, the study done by Andrea Manica further reinforces the theory of Out-of-Africa evolution

Works Cited

Johanson, Donald C. "Origins of Modern Humans: Multiregional or Out of Africa?"

Actionbioscience. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Aug. 2015.

Stringer and Andrews 1988 Sciences vol 241 p 773 – 774

Wolpoff, Milford H., and Rachel Caspari. Race and Human Evolution. New York: Simon &
Schuster, 1997. Print.