Human Evolution

human evolution

Denisovan DNA found in modern Pacific Islanders, ancient Spaniards

In the time that Homo sapiens and Neanderthals were coexisting — and interbreeding — there was at least one more human species on the landscape, the Denisovans. First identified from a 41,000-year-old finger bone found in a cave in Siberia, the Denisovans are now thought to have been widespread around Eurasia. In two new studies, scientists have shed additional light on the relationship of Denisovans to other humans, finding new traces of Denisovan DNA in ancient and modern genomes.

23 Jul 2016

Could early Homo pass the sniff test?

Like modern humans, early hominins walked upright and had opposable thumbs, but their faces were more ape-like, with flattened noses and protruding foreheads. It wasn’t until the evolution of the genus Homo that hominin faces began to look more human — flatter overall but with protruding noses. Along with changes in external appearance came internal changes as well, though these are less well understood as soft-tissue structures preserved in the fossil record are hard to come by. In a new study, researchers comparing both modern human and nonhuman primate nasal cavities offer some clues as to how our respiratory system evolved on the inside to compensate for the changes on the outside.

01 Jul 2016

Ancient Indonesian tools made by mysterious inhabitants

The island of Sulawesi is one link in a chain of islands between mainland Asia and Australia, and was likely an important stepping stone in human dispersal from Eurasia through Oceania to Australia. Previous research has placed modern humans on Sulawesi as early as 40,000 years ago, but scientists have now dated a set of stone tools to at least 118,000 years ago, suggesting humans occupied the island far earlier than thought.

01 Jun 2016

Underwater archaeology reveals pre-Clovis people butchered mastodon in Florida

Evidence has been mounting for cultures older than the Clovis people, with archaeological sites and artifacts older than 14,000 years found as far south as Chile and genetic evidence dating the first incursions into North America to about 15,000 years ago. Now, a new study reporting on an underwater archaeological excavation at a site in Florida that dates to 14,550 years ago is adding more evidence of pre-Clovis people, and shedding light on how they may have spread across the Americas.

13 May 2016

Humans evolved early to be more efficient sleepers

We humans spend about a third of our lives asleep. While that might sound like a lot, we require less sleep than most mammals. In a new study, researchers have quantified how much less sleep we need than other primates, and the findings may offer clues to how and when human sleep patterns evolved.

22 Apr 2016

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

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