Definitions of our species have tended to focus on fossils, genetics, or its unique capacities for symbolism, language, social networking, technological competence, and cognitive development. More recently, however, attention is increasingly turning towards humans’ ecological plasticity. In this talk, Patrick will provide a critical evaluation of existing archaeological and palaeo-environmental datasets relating to the Pleistocene (300-12 ka) dispersal of our species within and beyond Africa. He will argue, following comparison with the available information for other members of the genus Homo, that our species developed a new ecological niche, that of the ‘generalist specialist’. Not only did Homo sapiens as a whole occupy and utilise a diversity of Pleistocene environments, across the majority of the planet's continents, but particular human populations also specialised in their adaptations to some of these environmental extremes. Understanding this ecological niche provides a hypothetical, testable framework for discussing what it means to be human and perhaps how our species became the last surviving hominin on the planet.