Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Out of Africa

  • Written by  Benjamin Hennig
  • Published in Mapping
Out of Africa Benjamin Hennig
16 Apr
2016
Benjamin Hennig maps humanity's migration across the globe

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.

mapBenjamin Hennig

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.

Benjamin Hennig (@geoviews) is a senior research fellow in the School of Geography and the Environment at the University of Oxford. He is involved in the Worldmapper project and maintains the blog www.viewsoftheworld.net

This was published in the April 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.

Related items

Subscribe to Geographical!

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Sign up for our weekly newsletter today and get a FREE eBook collection!

geo line break v3

University of Winchester

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • Natural Capital: Putting a price on nature
    Natural capital is a way to quantify the value of the world that nature provides for us – the air, soils, water, even recreational activity. Advocat...
    The human game – tackling football’s ‘slave trade’
    Few would argue with football’s position as the world’s number one sport. But as Mark Rowe discovers, this global popularity is masking a sinister...
    Essential oil?
    Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many circles it is considered the scourge of the natural world, for the deforestation and habita...
    The Money Trail
    Remittance payments are a fundamental, yet often overlooked, part of the global economy. But the impact on nations receiving the money isn’t just a ...
    Alien views
    The tabloids would have us believe that immigrants are taking our houses, our jobs, our school places and our hospital beds. But a close reading of th...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in PLACES...

Mapping

Check out this superb selection of mapping books - ideal…

Water

Glacial melt is increasing  land instability in mountainous regions, with huge tsunamis…

Mapping

A large-scale terrain mapping project makes Antarctica the best-mapped continent…

Water

New research reveals that microplastics can survive in mosquitos from…

Cities

New research measures the ability of major cities to re-use…

Deserts

Biosphere 2 was one of the most ambitious experiments in…

Forests

High-quality, affordable drones can revolutionise the way that landscape and…

Mapping

Benjamin Hennig charts the impact of volcanoes on nearby human…

Mapping

A volunteer-led digital mapping project is at the heart of…

Cities

As the planet urbanises, attention is turning towards the most…

Forests

Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many…

Cities

A rising number of cruise ships and their ‘overlooked’ diesel…

Mapping

Benjamin Hennig charts the growth and impact of the world’s…

Deserts

Long-term studies reveal the Sahara desert has expanded substantially over…

Water

South America’s wealthiest economy is at a crossroads between environmental…

Forests

The European Court of Justice finds the logging of a…

Mountains

In this extract from his new book, Tides, mountain climber…

Cities

New data from the World Health Organization reveals that nine…

Water

In the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan,…