The first Homo sapiens fossils date from 100 000 years ago with fossil skeletons found in sites in Israel. Homo sapiens was taller with long limbs and a more gracile skeleton than Neanderthal. The skull had thinner bones, had lost the brow ridges and evolved a chin. The nose was long and slender and the brain size large.
What caused this evolution into Homo sapiens or modern man?
I believe it started with the invention of the bow and arrow. Why?
Because with warfare conducted with bow and arrow, the cause of death is not a blow to the head, but an arrow through the ribs. This is why the skull evolved thinner bones and lost the brow ridges.
The first evidence of arrow heads comes from Stillbay in South Africa 164 000 years ago. Fire was used to heat up silcrete rock and make crescent-shaped blades and arrowheads.
Homo sapiens entered Ice Age Europe 35 000 years ago and formed the Upper Palaeolithic culture characterized by a great variety of tools made of stone, flint, bone, antler and ivory. But it appears that there was a coalescing of peoples in the Near East before this happened. African peoples with bow and arrow may have encountered Eastern peoples with harpoons, and both of these met up with the descendants of Homo heidelbergensis from Europe.
In effect, with the onset of the Ice Age, Homo heidelbergensis retreated southwards into North Africa and the Middle East to continue root crop cultivation in the warmer climate. Homo heidelbergensis brought caucasoid adaptation to a cooler climate to the genetic mix of Homo sapiens. This was crucial to the physiological adaptation of Homo sapiens to extreme cold.
There was 65 000 years of peoples from Africa, Asia and Europe meeting in the Near East forming a new subspecies of human before the Upper Palaeolithic was initiated in Europe by Homo sapiens. Exchange of knowledge and the sharing of inventions led to the very varied Upper Palaeolithic tool kit of Homo sapiens.
There must have been a set of key inventions that allowed Homo sapiens to enter a continent filled with snow and ice.
The first key invention was the wearing of clothes with boots for the feet. This required learning how to make leather and cure furs. The clothing development is known from the bone needles used to sew clothes and horn toggles used to hold them together found at Cro Magnon sites in France.
Hunting weapons included spear heads, arrow heads and harpoons, but the key to hunting was probably dogs. Dogs have been associated with humans for over 50 000 years. The domestication of the dog for hunting meant that the dog did the chase, not the hunter.
I think the other innovation was transport. Homo sapiens had the plank boat that was rowed to cross rivers and used to reach islands. This type of flat-bottomed punt-shaped boat also became a sledge when on snow. There were dogs to pull sledges in a landscape of snow and ice.
Wearing clothes in a cold climate with only the skin of hands and face exposed to sunlight led to the evolution of white skin in Europe at this time. White skin makes vitamin D even in low sun conditions.
Tall stature and wide body meant that brain size reached an average of 1570 cc which is above the modern global average of 1400 cc.
Cro Magnon man gets his name from a rock shelter at Les Eyzies, in the Dordogne region of France. When the Ice Age ended in Europe 11 000 years ago Cro Magnon disappeared, but the Upper Paleaolithic culture continued in Finland complete with many artifacts such as sledges. So it seems that Cro Magnon migrated northwards.
Fair hair and blue eyes evolved through genetic loss of pigments. These traits appeared at some point during the 25 000 years of Homo sapien’s Upper Palaeolithic residence in the land of snow and ice.
At the end of the Ice Age Neolithic farmers moved into southern Europe. They were of shorter stature, and had the darker skin and hair colour of Middle Eastern people. They brought the Neolithic polished stone axe and used fire to burn down forests and make agricultural land. The new farmers combined raising cattle with growing cereal crops. Because grain crops can be stored in barns, this set the stage for the coming of civilization.
One last question remains: Where did those red haired people come from?
Red hair seems to have first occurred among Celtic people who came from Eastern Europe. Red hair goes with pink skin which does not tolerate much sun.
I think the rare gene for red hair survived among the Celts because these people did not get vitamin D from exposure of the skin to sunlight, but from consuming milk. It is a trait among herding peoples whose diet has a high proportion of milk, cheese, yoghurt and butter.
The genius of Homo sapiens was in the melding of cultures and in the organization of a federation of tribes to bring peace during the 65 000 years spent in the Near East leading up to the emergence of Upper Palaeolithic culture. These were the qualities that brought success to ‘anatomically modern man.’