The National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku) is a research center for ethnology and cultural anthropology.

Anthropological Studies of Human Movement From an Evolutionary Viewpoint

Joint Research Coordinator INTOH Michiko

Reserch Theme List


homo mobilitus, human dispersals, background for human dispersals


After its birth on the African continent, over hundreds of thousands of years the human race (homo sapiens) dispersed and settled throughout Eurasia, Asia, North America and South America, as well as Oceania. No other species of animal life has dispersed and moved over such a broad portion of the earth’s surface, such that the human race well merits the title homo mobilitas. Moreover, in contemporary society human beings continue to move about various parts of the world by different methods and with myriad different goals.

This research will focus on such movement of groups of people and seek from an anthropological perspective to explicate the various facets of their history and the various cultural phenomena which have resulted. The history of the human race involves numerous disciplines, including physical anthropology and archaeology, genetics. The goals of this research are to add input from cognitive anthropology, cultural anthropology and linguistics, so as to construct a cross-sectional view of human movement and propose a human movement model.

Research Results

  1. Modern humans are all H. sapiens, a species that first appeared in Africa then spread around the world. This proposition rejects the local evolution theory in which earlier hominids migrated from Africa and evolved into modern humans in the regions to which they migrated.
  2. It was once believed that the Neanderthals became extinct and were replaced by the modern humans formerly called Cro-Magnons; but genetic evidence demonstrates that these two varieties of humans co-existed and interbred.
  3. Conventional racial classifications are meaningless. Modern humans became more diverse as they spread around the world, repeatedly mingling and interbreeding with other human populations, with differences in the timing of that spread increasing diversity by region.
  4. The diversity of human populations found in Asia reflects the mixing of an ancient population that migrated from Africa to Australia and New Guinea with another population that migrated southward from northern Asia. Gender-related differences suggest that Oceania was populated by a mixture of populations at different stages of cultural evolution (paleolithic hunters and gatherers and neolithic farmers).
  5. There is no one reason why humans move. They move for various reasons. However, as studies of other primates and many other species also demonstrate, climate change is a major factor. To this we must add the curiosity that is instinctual in humans like ourselves.
  6. We have demonstrated the difficulty of constructing a model of human movement and resulting cultural change, given the diversity of human migration and the reasons for which humans migrate. Repeated discussion led, however, to identification of several key factors. First is the ability to adapt to the onslaught of environmental change. Typical examples of adaptation to new climates include new toolkits, exploitation of new natural resources, and the setting and achievement of new goals. Second is diversity in adaptive results (cultural stock). This is a particularly important factor when migration continues, compelling adaptation to a series of new environments. Finally, there is the sociability of human beings. Being able to build cooperative relationships within groups is a key mechanism in coping with both migration and adaptation.