Question 1: Third Place

 

Excerpt from Michael Zhang's winning essay

 

 

... Archaeological and anthropological evidence places the origin of the Homo genus in Africa approximately 2 million years ago. Around one million years ago, representatives of the most recent common ancestor of modern humans and Neanderthals, Homo erectus, migrated out of Africa and into Eurasia leading to the formation of separate populations. In particular, the hominids that entered Europe would eventually evolve to become Neanderthals, while AMHs [anatomically modern humans] descended from those that remained in Africa. Whether this divergence was enough to cause speciation, however, has yet to be determined by archaeological and anthropological investigations. This is largely due to the inability of these fields to address whether interbreeding between these two groups was biologically possible, which is the requirement for classifying two lineages as the same species (Princeton, 2011). In the last decade and a half, advances in molecular biology promise to supplant the deficiencies of archaeology by providing genetic evidence to help determine the nature of the relationship between Neanderthals and AMHs...