Pre-humans and earlier Out-of-Africa migrations

The earliest primates (an order of mammals that includes living Homo sapiens and the great apes as well as many more known and unknown extinct species) all originally evolved in Africa according to the genetic, archaeological and other evidenceprovided byf the living and the dead.

There seems to have been at least two and perhaps more earlier “Great Migrations” out of Africa if the finds of what are thought to be Homo erectus in in India, Java and China are not to be explained as “local developments”. Why all human-like populations predating modern Homo sapiens and his Great Migration have become extinct millennia ago as remain an enigma. A great deal more material needs to be found before anything can be said about earlier out-of-Africas that is not just guessing. Homo sapiens is the chief suspect – but there is only circumstantial evidence and not enough to convict.

The chart below should be read as a rough-and-ready sketch of what the present and still very skimpy evidence indicate is the most likely scenario. But remember: one major new piece of evidence and large parts of this and most other charts need changing! Very little is really firmly established fact. Compare the charts that people the internet by the dozen: Almost every chart shows different relationships, dates and ranges, new species are created, others fall into disuse. The distant human past is indeed hard to nail down. We do not even know for sure which extinct species were in our direct ancestral line (with the possible exception of No. 10 Homo sapiens idaltu below).

It is a hard subject: DNA analysis does not work (at least not yet) on very ancient remains, the physical remains are usually in a shape and in a state of a completeness that makes the word “inadequate” quite inadequate. On the other hand, that we are able to find such fragile, tiny remains from so long ago is a miracle all by itself.

For many more species, dates, details and uncertainties see


The chart shows a selection of Homo and pre-Homo species. Very few are agreed among the specialists since they have so little apart apart from a few bones, usually, to go on. The extremely rare footprints shown above and many tools (which are often hard to assign to a species) are all they have to go on. However, many more finds are certain to be awaiting discovery in Africa and elsewhere.

The only reasonably firm fact is that the earliest humans did come out of Africa around 100,000 years ago and that there were no other Homo species left after Homo neanderthalensis became extinct around 24,000 years ago (see below). The reasons behind these many extinctions remain unknown, although with Homo neanderthalensis, Homo sapiens is the chief suspect.

We have put Homo rhodesiensis into the chart in a way that suggests it was an ancestor species of Homo sapiens. It might have been, but not everybody agrees.

The enigmatic remains of pre-human species in Java and China (among a few others) suggest that there have been some early “Out of Africa” migrations long before Homo sapiens existed.Their origin and the reasons behind their extinction remain open questions.


The maps (left) show the approximate distribution of finds assigned to
– Australopithecus
– Homo erectus
– Homo heidelbergensis, Homo rhodesiensis and Homo sapiens idaltu.
(The numbers refer to the chart above.)

For the distribution of Homo neanderthalensis see separate map below.

Coastlines shown are those of today. See graph map on Sea Level Changes.

Some major pre-Human and early-Human finds

Africa between 100,000 and around 10,000 years ago, during the last part of the pleistocene was peopled by a number of early modern humans. Many highly sophisticated stone tools have been found and dated by new methods sophisticated that they are thought to be (almost) certainly were made by modern humans. But hardly a identifiable human remains. In other words: very little is known about the people that made those those tools. Were they the ancestors of the present-day Khoisan, of the present-day Negrids or of the ancestors of the people who left

A selection of important pre-human and human finds (sorted in order of antiquity and area). Dates can sometimes change as new methods or refinements are applied. The classification of a find to a particular species can change as new evidence comes to light or new methods of analysis are used and classification of specific finds can be controversial between researchers.

In the list below the coloured entries refer to finds older than 500,000 years (for their locations see map that follows). It makes no pretensions at completeness. All we can do here is give a tiny sample of the huge and growing total.


1 – Laetoli, Tanzania, 3.5 mio yrs, Australopithecus afarensis2
2 – Koro Toro, Chad, 3.5 to 3 mio yrs, Australopithecis bahrelghazali
3 – Hadar “Lucy”, Ethiopia, 3.2 mio yrs, Australopithecus afarensis
4 – Taung Child, South Africa, 2.5 mio yrs, Australopithecus Africanus
5 – Koobi Fora, Kenya, 2.1 mio yrs, Homo habilis
5 – Nariokotome, Kenya, 1.5 mio yrs, Homo habilis
6 – Saldanha, South Africa500,000 to 200,000 yrs, archaicHomo sapiens
7 – Casablanca, 500,000 yrs, Homo erectus
8 – Kabwe (Broken Hill), Zambia, 300,000 to 150,000 yrs,Homo erectus
9 – Kibish, Ethiopia, 200,000 yrs, early archaic Homo sapiens
10 – Tighenif, Algeria, 200,000 yrs, Homo erectus
11 – Jebel Irhoud, Morocco, 160,000 yrs, early archaic Homo sapiens
12 – Klasies River, South Africa, 120,000 to 80,000 yrs, Homo sapiens
13 – Sibudu, South Africa, 75,000 to 65,000 yrs, Homo sapiens
14 – De Kelders, South Africa, 1,600 years ago, Homo sapiens

Middle East 
– Tabun, Israel, 120,000 yrs, Homo neanderthalensis
– Qafzeh, Israel, 100,000 yrs, Homo sapiens/neanderthalensis
– Shkul, Israel, 90,000 yrs, archaic Homo sapiens orneanderthalensis
– Kebara, Israel, 60,000 yrs, Homo neanderthalensis
– Shanidar, Iraq, 60,000 to 40,000 yrs, Homo neanderthalensis

– Hathnora, 500,000 yrs, Homo erectus
– Narmada, 73,000 yrs, buried in Toba ash*, Homo erectus

1 – Ngandong, Java, 1.8 mio yrs, Homo erectus
1 – Mojokerto child, Java, 1.8 mio yrs, Homo erectus
1 – Ngandong, Java, 1.8 mio yrs, Homo erectus
1 – Sangiran, Java, 1.6 mio yrs, Homo erectus

1 – Atapuerca, Spain 800,000 years, Homo erectus (antecessor)†
2 – Mauer, Germany, 500,000 yrs, Homo heidelbergensis

2 – Bilzingsleben, Germany, 500,000-300,000 yrs, Homo erectus
– Arago, Spain, 400,000 yrs, Homo heidelbergensis
– Petralona, Greece, 350,000 to 160,000 yrs, Homo erectusor sapiens
– Steinheim, Germany, 250,000 yrs,early Homo neanderthalensis (?)
– Swanscombe, Great Britain, 250,000 yrs, Homo erectus
– Neanderthal, Germany, 250,000-30,000 yrs, Homo neanderthalensis
– Saccopastore, Italy, 130,000-115,000 yrs, Homo neanderthalensis
– Montmaurin, France, 200,000-135,000 yrs, Homo neanderthalensis
– Krapina, Croatia, 145,000 to 115,000 yrs, Homo neanderthalensis
– La Ferrassie, France, 70,000 yrs, Homo neanderthalensis
– Monte Circeo, Italy, 50,000 years, Homo neanderthalensis
– Cro Magnon, France, 35,000 to 10,000 yrs, Homo sapiens
– Gibraltar, 24,000 years, Homo neanderthalensis

Central Asia
-Teshik Tash, Uzbekistan, 45,000 yrs, Homo neanderthalensis
1 – Gongwangling, 1 mio yrs, Homo erectus††
2 – Zoukoudian, 750,000 yrs, Homo erectus††
– Hexian, 400,000 yrs, Homo erectus
– Dali, 200,000 yrs, Homo erectus
– Maba, 200,000 yrs, archaic Homo sapiens
– Liujiang, 25,000 yrs, Homo sapiens

– Lake Mungo, 81,000 to 61,000 years, archaic Homo sapiens

† Ancient European fossils shown in blue on the map below
†† Ancient Chinese fossils shown in red on the map below



The gaps in our knowledge are much larger than the body of evidence that has been accumulated and evaluated during the past 200 years. Answers to the countless open questions that the discovery of – to give just one major example – the early Chinese and Indonesian species raise can only come from new evidence.

Next: One complication among many: Neanderthal Man