Homo sapiens. The great history of human diversity
curated by Luigi Luca Cavalli Sforza and Telmo Pievani
EXTENDED TO 9 APRIL 2012
"Each village is a microcosm that tends to reproduce the macrocosm of all mankind, albeit a bit different in proportions"
Luigi Luca Cavalli Sforza
Two hundred thousand years ago Homo sapiens began the journey from a small valley in what is today's Ethiopia that led him to colonize the entire planet and to live with other human species, forming the great variety of peoples and cultures that we know. For the first time, an international group of scientists from different disciplines and coordinated by Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, has reconstructed the roots and routes of human settlement. Geneticists, linguists, anthropologists and paleo-anthropologists have combined the results of their research into a wonderful fresco of the history of human evolution. The result is Homo sapiens. La grande storia della diversità umana (Homo sapiens. The great history of human diversity), an international interactive and multimedia exhibition made up of six sections telling the stories of the adventures and extraordinary travels, largely unknown, which generated the mosaic of human diversity.
SECTION 1 - MAL D'AFRICA
Strange and very large primates leave Africa to colonize the Old World. This is the beginning of the genus Homo, slightly less than two million years ago. A distinctive feature of this new form of hominid is its complete bipedal locomotion. Findings from sites in Africa and the first settlements outside this continent tell of the first waves of migration "Out of Africa".
SECTION 2 - SOLITUDE IS A RECENT INVENTION
When our species Homo sapiens was born in Africa, probably between 180 thousand and 200 thousand years ago, and then decided to move, it came into contact with a world crowded with species of the genus Homo that had come out from Africa previously. From our coexistence with our Neanderthal "cousins" to the story of the little Man of Flores and the mysterious Man of Denisova (Siberia): for most of our history, we have not been alone on this planet.
SECTION 3 - GENES, POPULATIONS, LANGUAGES
Around 40,000 years ago came the "Paleolithic Revolution": art, burial rituals, new technology, cooking food ... a cognitively different sapiens. At the same time, two great epics tell us about the colonization of the new Australian and American worlds. Due to interactions between converging evidence from different disciplines - such as the genetics of populations, archeology and linguistics - it is possible to reconstruct the family tree of the diversification of the people on Earth and plot the ramifications that led the human species to spread throughout the globe.
SECTION 4 - TRACES OF LOST WORLDS
The domestication of plants and animals allowed humans to settle and the human population begins to grow at a pace never seen before, triggering new expansions, migration, hybridization, and new conflicts, and leading to often irreversible impact on the colonized areas. The movements of populations have been and will continue to be the main driver of changes in the mosaic of human biological and cultural diversity.
SECTION 5 - ITALY, UNITY IN DIVERSITY
In this special section, Italy is seen as a test case and, at the same time, as a territory that is enriched by its cultural and biological diversity: two intertwined forms of evolution of the genes, the populations and the languages. This is the historical result of the ongoing processes of migration which, however, did not prevent the formation of a cultural unity, illustrated by the birth of the Italian language long before Italy became a nation.
SECTION 6 - ALL RELATED, ALL DIFFERENT: THE INTERTWINED ROOTS OF CIVILIZATION
If the origin of Homo sapiens is so recent, unique and African, and then, if our young species has been so mobile and promiscuous, it means that it is highly unlikely that there was any time or way to divide human populations into genetically distinct "races". The dual message of this story is the strong biological unity while there is also the extraordinary cultural diversity within the human species. The "civilizations" in this scenario are similar to evolving organisms, full of internal differences and interdependent upon each other as to both time and space. The roots of these model systems of culture are all intertwined.