The earliest humans were nomadic or cave-dwelling. Their continuous movement has made finding evidence of their lives difficult. Paleoanthropologists, scientists who study the ancient human past, believe that the greater Mesopotamian region and Africa compete for the oldest human settlement sites. And there is strong evidence that hundreds of cultures in these regions have lived, thrived, and disappeared.
However, recent discoveries worldwide have extended the timeline of human settlement back, by almost 400,000 years and expanded the traditional locations of ancient Euro-Asia and Africa into the South Pacific and North and South America.
One of the oldest human settlements is found in the Northwest African country, Morocco. Jebel Irhoud is one of the oldest human settlements worldwide - dating to 360,000 years ago.
Eastern Africa's Ethiopia houses many early human settlement sites. In the Kibish Mountains, human remains at Omo date back nearly 195,000 years. They are thought to be the region's earliest hominid bones -- older than the 160,000-year-old Herto Bouri remains. The Democratic Republic of Congo in Central Africa is home to 90,000-year-old Semliki - carved harpoon heads made of bone.
Hasankeyf, in southeastern Turkey, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements on earth. Over 20 cultures have made their mark on this 12,000-year settlement.
In Canada's Yukon territory, human-worked mammoth bone flakes are found at Bluefish Caves. These artifacts suggest the earliest North American human settlement is 40,000 to 25,000 years old.
In Australia, human skeletal remains were found in Lake Mungo, New South Wales. These artifacts date to roughly 40,000 years old. Human adornments found in Western Australia at Devil's Lair are estimated at 46,000 years old. In Australia's Northern Territory, Ochre fragments, natural dirt, and minerals used as pigments surfaced at Malakunanja II. Paleoarcheologists date these items to 43,000 years old.
These ancient finds are historical and change the way modern humans think about their ancestry. However, the majority of human settlement evidence dates from 25,000 to 0 years BCE - Before the Common Era (BCE).
Burned animal bones discovered in Cyprus and bones and stone artifacts from Columbia date to 10,500 CBE. A site in Argentina hid human-worked spearheads and human fossils dating to roughly 9,000 years ago. And artifacts from a settlement in Chile carbon-dated to 18,500 to 14,500 BCE. The sites in Chile are the oldest known settlements in South America.
|Spear heads and human fossils.
|The oldest human skeletal remains are the 40,000-year-old Lake Mungo remains in New South Wales, but human ornaments discovered at Devil's Lair in Western Australia have been dated to 48,000 BP. Ochre fragments at Malakunanja II in Northern Territory are dated to ca. 45,000 BP.
|Settled by English survivors of the Sea Venture shipwreck, led by George Somers.
|Charcoal from the oldest layers yielded dates of 41,000-56,000 BP.
|Laang Spean cave in the Stung Sangker River valley, Battambang Province.
|Human-worked mammoth bone flakes found at Bluefish Caves, Yukon, are much older than the stone tools and animal remains at Haida Gwaii in British Columbia (10-12,000 BP) and indicate the earliest known human settlement in North America .
|CE 1462 / 488 BP
|Settlers from Portugal.
|Carbon dating of remains from this site represent the oldest known settlement in South America .
|Bones found in a cave near Beijing in 1958 have been radiocarbon dated at between 39-42,000 years old.
|Stone, bone and charcoal artifacts.
|Burned bones of megafauna.
|Oldest human bones that clearly represent a human settlement in Europe.
|Semliki harpoon heads carved from bone.
|Skeleton of 8-10 year old child discovered in 1994.
|The Pulli settlement on the bank of the Pärnu River briefly pre-dates that at Kunda , which gave its name to the Kunda culture.
|The Omo remains found in 1967 near the Ethiopian Kibish Mountains, have been dated as ca. 195,000 years old, making them the earliest human remains ever found. They are older than the remains found at Herto Bouri , Ethiopia (155-160,000 BP).
|Settled by French during the expedition of Louis Antoine de Bougainville.
|Agricultural remains from three locations were analysed and dated to as early as the sixth century A.D.
|Radiocarbon dating of a shell midden at Bourewa on Viti Levu Island shows earliest inhabitation at 1220-970 BC.
|The cave paintings in the Chauvet Cave in southern France have been called the earliest known cave art, though the dating is uncertain.
|Three Paleolithic flutes belonging to the early Aurignacian , which is associated with the assumed earliest presence of Homo sapiens in Europe ( Cro-Magnon ). It is the oldest example of prehistoric music .
|Geneticist Bryan Sykes identifies 'Ursula' as the first of The Seven Daughters of Eve and the carrier of the mitochondrial haplogroup U . This hypothetical woman moved between the mountain caves and the coast of Greece, and based on genetic research represent the first human settlement of Europe.
|Saqqaq culture was the first of several waves of settlement from northern Canada and from Scandinavia.
|CE 874 / 1,076 BP
|Ingólfr Arnarson , the first known Norse settler, built his homestead in Reykjavík this year, though Norse or Hiberno-Scottish monks might have arrived up to two hundred years earlier.
|Recent finds of stone tools in Jwalapuram before and after the Toba supereruption , may have been made by modern humans, but this is disputed.
|Early humans travelled by sea and spread from mainland Asia eastward to New Guinea and Australia.
|Carbon dating of hazel nut shells reveals this place to have been inhabited for 9,700 years.
|Discovered in 1929-1935; remains exhibit a mix of archaic and modern traits and may represent an early migration from Africa that died out by 80,000 years ago.
|Two baby teeth discovered in Apulia in 1964 are the earliest modern human remains yet found in Europe.
|Genetic research indicates arrival of humans in Japan by 37,000 BP. Archeological remains at the Tategahana Paleolithic Site at Lake Nojiri have been dated as early as 47,000 BP.
|In 2009 an ancient skull was recovered from a cave in the Annamite Mountains in northern Laos which is at least 46,000 years old, making it the oldest modern human fossil found to date in Southeast Asia.
|Fragments of two human mandibles discovered in 1953.
|The population of Madagascar seems to have derived in equal measures from Borneo and East Africa.
|A human skull in Sarawak, Borneo, has been dated to ca. 34-46,000 years ago. (Archeologists have claimed a much earlier date for stone tools found in the Mansuli valley, near Lahad Datu in Sabah , but precise dating analysis has not yet been published.)
|Settlers from Sicily brought agriculture and impressed ware pottery.
|First settled by Dutch under Cornelius Gooyer.
|Anatomically modern human remains of uncertain date, 90-190,000 years old.
|CE 1250 / 700 BP
|Though some researchers suggest settlements as early as 50–150 AD, that later went extinct, it is generally accepted that the islands were permanently settled by Eastern Polynesians (the ancestors of the Māori ) who arrived about 1250–1300 AD.
|The oldest remnants of the so-called Fosna culture were found in Aukra in Møre og Romsdal , and date from this period.
|Tools found in the Dhofar Governorate correspond with African objects from the so-called 'Nubian Complex', dating from 75-125,000 years ago. According to archaeologist Jeffrey I. Rose, human settlements spread east from Africa across the Arabian Peninsula.
|Stone and bone artifacts found in a cave of the Ayacucho complex.
|Archaeologists, Dr. Armand Mijares with Dr. Phil Piper found bones in a cave near Peñablanca, Cagayan in 2010 have been dated as ca. 67,000 years old. It's the earliest human fossil ever found in Asia-Pacific.
|A boomerang made from mammoth tusk.
|Possible Neanderthal/Cro-Magnon hybrid, the Lapedo child.
|Carbon dating of burial site.
|Bones dated as 38–42,000 years old are among the oldest human remains found in Europe.
|Lapita site found at Mulifanua Ferry Berth Site by New Zealand scientists in the 1970s.
|Remains found in the Klasies River Caves in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa show signs of human hunting. There is some debate as to whether these remains represent anatomically modern humans.
|The earliest remains of anatomically modern man, based on radiocarbon dating of charcoal, have been found in the Fa Hien Cave in western Sri Lanka.
|Anatomically modern human discovered 1924 with rare temporal bone pathology.
|Chipped stone tool similar to those of the Changpin culture on the east coast.
|Radiocarbon dating of a shell found at the site dates the occupation at 3180±100 BP.
|Evidence of fire in a submerged cave last accessible 8000 BP.
|United Arab Emirates
|Stone tools made by anatomically modern humans.
|Human jaw fragment found in Torquay, Devon in 1927.
|Stone, bone, and wood artifacts and animal and plant remains found in Washington County, Pennsylvania.
|Lapita pottery found at Teouma cemetery on Efate and on several other islands.