Homo sapiens is a culturally and biologically unique species. Ample, diverse evidence indicates that it emerged in Africa before expanding to occupy other continents. Tracing the emergence of Homo sapiens is a research challenge of profound importance to understanding ourselves. How were the distinctive cultural attributes of this species--such as symbolic thought, curiosity, creativity, and spirituality-- related and assembled through time? This Big Question persists because the African emergence of Homo sapiens is still shrouded by the lack of adequate data. Relevant sites are scattered in space, inadequately constrained chronologically, and poor in content relative to the European record of Neanderthals and their ancestors. Knowledge of how we emerged as a species requires data collection and analysis across interlocking disciplines of the earth, biological, and social sciences. Our international multidisciplinary project will meet this challenge with unique Ethiopian resources from the time period between ~700kyr (when Homo sapiens and Neanderthals diverged) and ~200kyr (by which time anatomically modern humans had appeared in Africa). Paleoanthropologists universally recognize that the African record for this half-million-year period is critical. The proposed research will change that.
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