Modern human brain structures emerged some 1.7 million years ago in Africa

When and where did the modern human brain evolve?

An international team of researchers at the University of Zurich (UZH), Switzerland, spent a lot of time and energy to come to find the answers.

They concluded that the modern human brain evolved around 1.7 million years ago in Africa, the time when the extinct human homoerectus (aka an upright man) appeared and the culture of stone tools in Africa became increasingly complex.

The homoerectus species was the first known hominin to migrate out of Africa were adept at cognitive tasks such as communicating and hunting or food gathering. The researchers, too, have concluded that the typical human brain spread rapidly from Africa to Asia.

According to the study published in Journal Science, the UZH team, led by Christoph Zollikofer and Marcia Ponce de León, examined the skulls of Homo fossils that lived in Africa and Asia 1 to 2 million years ago.

“Our analyses suggest that modern human brain structures emerged only 1.5 to 1.7 million years ago in African Homo populations,” Zollikofer said.

“The features typical to humans are primarily those regions in the frontal lobe that are responsible for planning and executing complex patterns of thought and action, and ultimately also for language,” said anthropologist Ponce de León.

The researchers believe that biological and cultural evolution are probably linked. Ponce de León said that it is likely the earliest forms of human language also developed during this period.

The UZH team used computed tomography to examine the skulls of Homo fossils that lived in Africa and Asia 1 to 2 million years ago, and compared the fossil data with reference data from great apes and humans.