A biological species of genus Homo. Name is Latin for "wise human". It is the only surviving species of the genus. Commonly referred to as "humankind", "humanity", "humans", "people". (Also sometimes called "man" or "mankind", but that usage is discouraged these days on the grounds of gender neutrality.)
Most surviving evidence suggests that H. sapiens differentiated from H. erectus between 300,000 and 400,000 years ago. Fossil records indicate that early H. sapiens shared many facial features with H. erectus, yet used tools and hunted game. Few such intermediate forms have been found, though scientists doubt that concomitant evolution would have occurred over a large area.
- Petralona, Greece, about 300k years old. Contained many features of H. erectus.
- Arago, France, about 300k years old. Oldest skull clearly of H. sapiens origin.
The direct evidence suggests that there was a migration out of Africa of H. erectus, then a further speciation of H. sapiens from H. erectus in Africa and a subsequent migration out of Africa which replaced dispersed H. erectus. There is little evidence that this speciation occurred elsewhere, even though some fossil evidence for H. erectus has been found in China. However, the current evidence doesn't preclude multiregional speciation, either. This is a hotly debated area in paleoanthropology.
The origins of humanity is a subject of great political and religious controversy in the United States and certain other countries. See: creationism.
See also: Homo neanderthalensis. (Note: The taxonomic staus of Neandertals has always been, and remains, a topic of contention. Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens neanderthalensis both have advocates and the "preferred" view may vary from year to year.)