Unit 1: Ancient Africa - The Cradle of Civilization
(200,000 B.C. - 476 B.C.)

Unit 1: Class 2: Out of Africa – The Origins of Humanity Part 2

Learning Objectives
After completing this lesson, students 
will be able to:

  • Analyze and acknowledge the prevailing scientific theories on the origins of human beings.

  • Describe the reasons the first humans (homo sapiens) migrated out of Africa. 

  • Discuss the contributions to civilization made by the first humans in Africa.

  • Chart the path of human migration out of Africa and discuss its impact on human variation (i.e. skin/eye color, height, hair texture, etc.).

Class Overview

According to modern science and historical evidence, the first human beings (homo sapiens) on our planet originated in Africa approximately 200,000 years ago in the area which is now Ethiopia. This “Out of Africa” or (OOA) theory is the most widely accepted theory of the origins of mankind. There is but one "race" in the world - the human "race" or more properly species. Modern ideas of separate "races" of people (i.e. black, white, asian, latino, etc.) are not rooted in anything scientific, but are social constructions. Once speculative, this theory of a recent single origin hypothesis (RSOH) coming out of Africa has been corroborated by present-day mitochondrial DNA, combined with evidence based on physical anthropology of archaic specimens. Thus, history begins in Africa. Fittingly, archeologists and geneticists affectionately refer to Africa as both the “birthplace of mankind” and the “cradle of civilization.”

Despite the fact that human beings originated in Africa and lived on the continent of Africa for well over 100,000 years before any other continent, we know very little about African history, let alone the first people in Africa - our common ancestors. These first human beings in Africa get little attention in modern history books, yet the contributions they made to civilization were not only pioneering – they allowed our species to survive. These early humans were the first to witness fire and learn to cultivate and manipulate it. They were the first to observe logs floating on the river and to translate that knowledge into the development of canoes and boats. They were the first to fashion shelter from reeds and to make homes from dried mud, to domesticate plants and animals, and to craft simple and complex tools for hunting, fishing, farming and building. They gave us our first knowledge of astronomy, our first drawings of animals, vegetation, and even human beings swimming. They made the world’s first weapons for taking down large prey, including the spear with stone tip and the more sophisticated bow and arrow. Furthermore, these early human beings in Africa established the first systems of human organization, including family structure, and developed the first forms of human worship and spirituality. And this was literally tens of thousands of years before the first of the great ancient civilizations of Ethiopia and Egypt were established circa 4,000 B.C.E. 

In the next two classes, you will analyze the prevailing theories on the origins of humanity and journey back in time to the first humans in Africa. What did they do in Africa for 100,000 years? What did they learn? What did they pass on? When and why did they begin migrating out of Africa? These questions will be probed as we begin our study of history, which begins with the study of Africa.

Homework Assignment