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Getting “Out of Africa”: Sea Crossings, Land Crossings and Culture in the Hominin Migrations

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Abstract

Palaeoanthropologists and archaeologists have advanced a wide range of explanatory narratives for the various movements of Homo erectus/Homo ergaster, and the first modern Homo sapiens, “Out of Africa”—or even back again. The application of Occam's razor—a parsimonious approach to causes—gives a more cautious approach. There is nothing in the available evidence that would require the ability for a human water crossing from Africa before the later Pleistocene, whether across the Strait of Gibraltar, the Sicilian Channel or the southern Red Sea (Bab el-Mandab). A parsimonious narrative is consistent with movements across the Sinai peninsula. The continuous arid zone from northern Africa to western Asia allowed both occupation and transit during wet phases of the Pleistocene; there is no requirement for a “sponge” model of absorption followed by expulsion of human groups. The Nile Valley as a possible transit route from East Africa has a geological chronology that could fit well much current evidence for the timing of human migration. The limited spatial and temporal opportunities for movements “Out of Africa,” or back again, also puts particular difficulties in the way of the gene flow required for the multiregional hypothesis of the development of modern Homo sapiens.

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Acknowledgements

Thanks for assistance or comments to colleagues including Geoff Bailey, Angela Close, Iain Davidson, Robin Dennell, Donald Denoon, Colin Groves, David Phillipson, and an anonymous reviewer, none of whom are implicated in my conclusions, errors or omissions.

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Correspondence to Robin Derricourt.

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Derricourt, R. Getting “Out of Africa”: Sea Crossings, Land Crossings and Culture in the Hominin Migrations. J World Prehist 19, 119–132 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10963-006-9002-z

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