African Migration

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The African origin of early modern humans 200,000--150,000 years ago is now well documented, with archaeological data suggesting that a major migration from tropical east Africa to the Levant took place between 130,000 and 100,000 years ago via the presently hyper-arid Saharan-Arabian desert. The path out of East Africa leads across North Africa, through the Nile corridor, and across the Red Sea, or across the Indian Ocean and the strait of Bab el Mandeb to the Arabian peninsula and beyond to Eurasia. Most of this interconnected landmass of the so-called Old World, the continental area encompassing Africa, Europe, and Asia, received migrants from East Africa by about 1.5 million years ago.

This migration was dependent on the occurrence of wetter climate in the region. Whereas there is good evidence that the southern and central Saharan-Arabian desert experienced increased monsoon precipitation during this period, no unequivocal evidence has been found for a corresponding rainfall increase in the northern part of the migration corridor, including the Sinai-Negev land bridge between Africa and Asia.

The major feature of world populations through time is their increasing numbers. It is likely that many early human migrations resulted from the pressure of such demographic increases on limited food resources; disease, drought, famine, war, and natural disaster figure among the most important causes of early human migrations. Approximately 100,000 years ago, the first migrations of Homo sapiens out of their African homeland likely coincided with the ability to use spoken language and to control fire. Over the next 87,000 years humans migrated to every continent, encompassing a wide variety of natural environments. The Americas were the last continents to be reached by Homo sapiens, about 13,000 years ago.

Why these earliest migrants left Africa to colonize the world is a complex, important question. The answer is likely to be found in a web of interrelated...
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