Jebel Faya, United Arab Emirates
Dating to 125,000 years ago, artefacts from this site resemble those produced by modern humans in Africa. Some archaeologists think their makers could have migrated farther, into Asia.
Image: H.-P. Uerpmann
Skhul & Qafzeh, Israel
Fossils and tools show that modern humans lived here before 120,000 years ago, but they are thought to have died out when the climate turned colder.
Image: Natural History Museum, London
Distinctive stone tools, 106,000 years old, are the clearest evidence for modern humans in Arabia at this early date.
Image: J. I. Rose et al. PLoS ONE 6, e28239 (2011)
Some 74,000 years ago, the volcano Toba on Sumatra was the source of one of the greatest volcanic eruptions on record. It blanketed India in ash, leaving a deposit that provides a convenient time marker for archaeologists.
Image: C. & J. Lenars/CORBIS
Jurreru Valley, India
Artefacts found beneath 74,000-year-old volcanic ash layers from the Toba eruption could have been made by modern humans, according to some archaeologists.
Image: M. Petraglia
Kent's Cavern, England
A fragment of human jaw was radiocarbon dated at 35,000 years ago in 1989, but bones excavated above and below it suggest that the real age is between 41,000 and 44,000 years old, making it the earliest evidence for modern humans in northern Europe.
Image: C. Collins, Natural History Museum, London
The Grotte du Renne at the Arcy complex in France has yielded Neanderthal remains in the vicinity of decorative items, suggesting symbolic behaviour. The claim is controversial and more refined radiocarbon dates may help to show whether artefacts from different times have become mixed together.
Image: M. Vanhaeran, Bordeaux Univ.
Two Neanderthal specimens from Vindija Cave in Croatia were dated to 32,000–34,000 years ago, suggesting extensive temporal overlap with early modern humans. Redating using ultrafiltration pushed the dates back to 35,000–39,000 years ago.
Image: I. Karavanic
The 'Red Lady' remains, found in Wales, were dated in the 1960s at 22,000 years old, then 30,000–31,000 years old as of the late 1980s. New ultrafiltration dating revealed them to be 33,000 years old, representing the oldest known ceremonial burial in western Europe.
Image: T. Higham
Grotta del Cavallo, Italy
Infant teeth from this Italian cave, once thought to be Neanderthal, were reclassified as modern human and dated to between 43,000 and 45,000 years ago, making them the earliest evidence of the species in Europe.
Image: S. Benazzi, Univ. Vienna
Burials at this site in Russia have yielded inconsistent dates, ranging between 22,000 and 33,000 years ago. New work puts the age closer to 35,000 years old and marks the site as the earliest evidence of elaborate burial in Eurasia.
Image: A. Buzhilova
This site has yielded artefacts such as a bone flute and is key to the theory that some complex human behaviours spread through Europe via southern Germany. Previous dates were inconsistent, but new dating work pegs early human occupations to 42,500 years ago — earlier than similar sites across Europe.
Image: H. Jensen, Univ. Tübingen
El Sidron, Spain
Neanderthal bones excavated from this site in Spain have contributed to the genome sequence published in 2010. Some originally yielded dates as recent as 10,000 years ago (long after Neanderthals went extinct). New work puts their age closer to 50,000 years old.
Image: M. de la Rasilla, Univ. Oviedo
Monte Verde, Chile
This inland site dating to 14,600 years ago has yielded scraps of seaweed (pictured), suggesting that some of the earliest people in the New World relied on the ocean for food and medicine. That evidence supports the argument that early people migrated along the coastline.
Image: T. D. Dillehay
Channel Islands, California
Projectile points found on the islands show that humans were skilled sea-goers at least as far back as 12,200 years ago. The finds lend support to the idea that people may have used boats to colonize America.
Image: J. Erlandson
Finely crafted Clovis projectile points from around 13,000 years ago were long regarded as the first evidence of humans in North America. But fresh work has overturned the idea that Clovis people were the earliest Americans.
Image: W. Morgan/CORBIS
Paisley Caves, Oregon
Fossilized human faeces date to more than 14,000 years ago, providing clear evidence that people reached America before the time of the Clovis hunters, who did not arrive until 13,100 years ago.
Image: J. Barnard/AP
Point Barrow, Alaska
Researchers are studying human remains from coastal graves that are eroding away. Genetic samples from these people, who lived here 1,000 years ago, will help refine estimates of how quickly DNA sequences are changing — a key bit of evidence for dating ancient migrations to the Americas.
Image: D. O'Rourke
Mastodon hunt site, Washington
An X-ray of a mastodon bone reveals the tip of a spear wielded by a hunter 13,800 years ago. Studies of that kill helped push back the dates for the arrival of humans in America.
Image: Center for the Study of the First Americans, Texas A&M Univ.
INTO THE MIDDLE EAST
150,000 to 125,000 years ago.
The global migration began when modern humans left Africa and crossed the Sinai or the base of the Red Sea. Fossils in Israel record their presence, and a 2011 discovery in Arabia suggests that by 125,000 years ago (125 kyr ago), modern humans had reached the doorstep of Asia. Click on the red circles for key sites.
125,000 to 50,000 years ago.
Modern humans may have crossed into Asia as far back as 125,000 years ago and reached India before the eruption of Toba 74,000 years ago. An alternative view holds that humans colonized Asia no earlier than 60,000 years ago by spreading rapidly along the coast of the Indian Ocean.
50,000 to 20,000 years ago.
Better purification techniques in radiocarbon dating have pushed back the arrival of the earliest humans in Europe to 45,000 years ago, 5,000 years earlier than was thought, and may shed light on when and how they interacted with Neanderthals.
JOURNEY TO AMERICA
20,000 to 10,000 years ago.
Archaeological remains and genetic clues suggest that modern humans left Siberia and made it to North America more than 14,000 years ago, at the end of the last ice age. Researchers debate whether the colonists walked down through central Canada or skirted the coast in boats. A controversial hypothesis suggests that the first Americans came from Europe by boat.
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