Human Evolution

human evolution

China's Red Deer Cave people may have survived until the last ice age

In the 1980s, a collection of bones from very small hominids was excavated from a cave in southwestern China, alongside a number of bones from a species of large red deer. Nicknamed the “Red Deer Cave people,” but not yet declared a distinct species, researchers previously dated radiocarbon in the sediments where the bones were found to about 14,000 years ago. In a new comparative study, the same team has now found that the hominids from which the bones came appear to have been similar to — although far smaller than — Homo habilis and Homo erectus, suggesting it could indeed be a new species.

19 Apr 2016

Rising Star cave hominid walked its own way

After dozens of human-like fossils were discovered in a cave in South Africa last summer, they were declared distinct enough to be classified as a new species: Homo naledi. Two recent studies looking in detail at the new hominid’s hands and feet are revealing how different they were from other early humans.
 
30 Jan 2016

South African cave system reveals new early human ancestor

The Rising Star Cave system, near Johannesburg, South Africa, has never been extensively explored because of its complexity and extremely narrow passages. But in 2013, when a team of intrepid cavers from the Speleological Exploration Club of South Africa pushed through a narrow 12-meter-long chute with an average width of only 20 centimeters, they discovered a chamber filled with what looked like human bones.
 
31 Dec 2015

Human hands not most advanced

Compared to chimpanzees, our recent evolutionary cousins, humans have long thumbs relative to our fingers. This trait has endowed our ancestors and us with a particular talent for grasping and working with tools, which likely contributed to our evolutionary success over the last several million years since splitting off from the last common ancestor (LCA) shared by the two groups. But rather than humans having the more evolved hand — a prevailing hypothesis since the late 20th century — a new study suggests that chimps’ hands, with lower thumb-to-finger-length ratios, have changed considerably more.
 
03 Dec 2015

Butchery or trampling? Controversy marks ancient animal bones

At some point in early human evolution, our ancestors began regularly hunting, butchering and consuming meat from large game, a protein- and fat-rich change in diet that may have helped fuel the development of a larger and more complex brain. When exactly this change took place has long been a matter of debate. Stone tools from 2.6 million years ago have offered the most solid evidence to date. But the discovery several years ago of a pair of 3.4-million-year-old animal bones in Dikika, Ethiopia, that appear to show cut marks indicative of butchery could push the date back significantly. Some researchers think the bones were marked by incidental trampling, however, not by early humans. 
 
22 Nov 2015

Earliest stone tools pre-date Homo

Tool making is thought to be one of the defining characteristics of the transition from apes to early man. Now, the discovery of a set of stone tools dating to 3.3 million years ago is pushing back this critical stage of early human development by more than half a million years, and, according to one researcher involved, disproving “the long-standing assumption that Homo habilis was the first tool maker.”

05 Sep 2015

The new anthropology: From bones and stones to biology and behavior

Paleoanthropology is embracing a more integrated approach to understanding our ancestors’ biology and behavior, overturning long-held narratives of human evolution.

15 May 2015

Scientists sequence oldest modern human genome to date

A chance fossil find along a Russian river has provided researchers with the oldest genomic data ever sequenced from a modern human. The fossil, a nearly complete left femur, was pulled from a bank along the Irtysh River near the Ust’-Ishim district in western Siberia in 2008 by a Russian artist before it made its way to scientists.

11 Feb 2015

Ancient cave art discovered in Indonesia

Europe has long been thought to have been the home of the oldest art in the world — including a stash of cave paintings in northern Spain that date to about 40,000 years ago — but a new dating technique may put Indonesia on the ancient art map as well.

06 Feb 2015

Dating the demise of the Neanderthals

For a time, Homo sapiens and Neanderthals shared space in Europe, likely interacting and possibly interbreeding, but roughly 40,000 years ago the Neanderthals died out for unknown reasons. Pinpointing the extinction of the Neanderthals has proved difficult due to limitations in carbon-14 dating techniques, the accuracy of which declines in samples approaching and older than 50,000 years due to a decreasing amount of carbon-14 for testing. Now, using a new dating technique, scientists have confirmed that Neanderthals likely disappeared between 41,000 and 39,000 years ago.

04 Jan 2015

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