It took a long time for humankind to move out of Africa and inhabit the rest of the planet. Archaeological research and genetic studies based on fossils found in plains of east Africa suggest that modern humans evolved nearly 200,000 years ago. Palaeontological findings and genetic footprints are also the basis for current theories of how modern humans (Homo sapiens) started spreading around the globe. Such models and timings keep changing, with new discoveries being made on a fairly regular basis.
The below map illustrates the migration of humanity across the Earth with all movement originating in Africa and with the estimated dates of arrival shown at key directions and locations. The dates are based on a number of scientifically validated estimates. They build upon the ‘Out of Africa’ model that assumes the spread of modern humans from their African origins across the globe, superseding any other human species that had lived in parts of the planet before (and sometimes as) Homo sapiens arrived.
The human migration patterns are drawn on top of a gridded population cartogram. This base map reflects the population density of humanity today, indicating how humanity’s journey relates to today’s distinct population distribution. That density, with most humans now living in Africa, India and China, has been long established, and so this base map is similar to one showing area in proportion to all humans that have ever lived. In such a map, Europe would be a little smaller, and Australia and the Americas would be drawn even smaller than they are shown here.
The spatial evolution of humanity across Earth following genetic footprints started around 100,000 years ago – approximately 125,000 to 75,000 Before Current Era (BCE) – and took as long as into the year 1000 Current Era (CE) to reach the remotest parts of Oceania and possibly also the definite arrival on Madagascar.
Environmental changes kept humanity on the move and ever expanding. This led to geography leaving a footprint on our DNA as humans changed and adapted slightly while they shaped and were shaped by their environments. This allows us today to compile this comprehensive picture of human migration. And yet, Homo sapiens managed to remain the only extant human species on the planet, leaving all other species of the genus Homo behind.
This global map draws a picture of what we know today about who we all really are, where we come from and how long it took us to get to where we are now. The history of humanity is also the story of the emergence of the current most influential species on the planet. The picture is quite certainly not a conclusive one, but based on a model supported by most scientists that see sufficient evidence for a common origin of modern humanity. Some dates might be adjusted in future, and more detail will emerge. More importantly, this is not the end of human migration as today’s environmental and socio-economic challenges keep the patterns of where humanity spreads constantly changing.
This was published in the April 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.