The earliest fossils of Homo sapiens date to about 200,000 years ago. Homo sapiens means “intelligent human,” and modern humans are classified in this species. Homo sapiens is believed to have evolved from Homo erectus. The evolution is thought to have taken place in Africa. The earliest fossils of Homo sapiens show a gradual change over the last 200,000 years into varieties of Homo sapiens, but not new species.
The oldest fossils classified as Homo sapiens are the Neanderthals, who lived from about 125,000 to about 35,000 years ago in Europe. Neanderthals were short, stocky, and powerfully built. They had large skulls and heavy faces with prominent brow ridges, a sloping forehead, and a heavy jaw but a small chin. Their large heads contained larger brains than those of today's humans. Neanderthals made tools of various types and lived in caves and huts.
While Neanderthals were still in existence, the oldest fully modern variety of Homo sapiens emerged. This modern variety is Cro-Magnon, for a cave in southwestern France where the first fossils were found. Cro-Magnon was somewhat similar to Neanderthals, but they had smaller heads and less prominent faces. Cro-Magnon is similar to modern humans. Cro-Magnon hunted, displayed culture, and showed the gradual development that led to today's societies. About 10,000 years ago, the first evidence of cities and social structure existed, and by about 5,000 years ago the first great civilizations began to flourish. Today's humans are the descendants of this variation of Homo sapiens.