The BBC is presenting a little series called “The Incredible Human Journey,” to be aired starting May 10. Alice Roberts from Time Team travels around tracing the journey of humans out of Africa. (What would be really entertaining is if she were secretly stalking a Spencer Wells production….)
Meanwhile, as part of the promotion for the show, they’ve released a forensic reconstruction of the Oase 2 cranium. For now, this is the earliest documented modern human skull from Europe. To my eyes, and many readers know I’m hardly alone, the face of Oase 2 has always looked Asian in appearance – it has prominent (anteriorly placed) cheekbones, a relatively vertical facial profile with a very low nasal angle. That’s not to say it’s an Asian skull – it doesn’t have rounded orbits, for example. But it contrasts with other early Upper Paleolithic females like Mladec 1.
The facial reconstruction also has that appearance to me. It looks a lot like the forensic reconstructions of Kennewick, although it lacks the Patrick Stewart forehead. It also lacks soft-tissue features that would cast it as Asian – no epicantric folds, dark skin, for example. The dark skin is probably accurate, considering the evidence for recent selection on pigmentation genes in Europeans. The nostrils seem broad and the lips very full, but those traits are variably expressed in many populations.
The article (and apparently the documentary) pushes an “everyman” interpretation – these people left Africa so recently that they haven’t developed regionally specific features. Could be; but I would think that interpretation should surprise those who think that there has been no selection on these features in recent people. I find it interesting the extent to which soft tissue can be manipulated to give that “everyman” effect, however – a mix of features from several different places really confuses people.