Human Evolution

human evolution

Creationism creeps into mainstream geology

It was easy to miss the part where the field trip leader said the outcrop formed during Noah’s Flood. After all, “During these catastrophic flood flows, turbulent, hyperconcentrated suspensions were observed to transform laminar mudflows” sounds like a reasonable description of alluvial fan processes. And “massive marine transgression” sounds scientific enough. But when creationist geologists use those phrases, they take on a very different meaning.

10 Jun 2011

Highlights of 2010: What does it mean to be human?

The sequencing of the Neanderthal genome in 2010 helps scientists answer the age-old question

01 Dec 2010

Questions arise over earliest evidence of human tool use

The debate over when our ancestors first used stone tools is not over just yet. In August, researchers had reported finding scratch marks on two 3.4-million-year-old animal bones that they said were made by Australopithecus afarensis — the ancestor made famous by Lucy — scraping meat off the bones with sharp-edged stones. If true, that would push tool use back to 800,000 years earlier than previously thought.

18 Nov 2010

Earliest fossil evidence of humans in Southeast Asia?

Modern humans reached the islands of Southeast Asia by approximately 50,000 years ago, but our ancestors’ journey was not easy. Even during times of low sea level, a voyage to some of these islands would have required crossing open water, leaving many scientists to wonder how humans arrived on the most isolated islands.

04 Aug 2010

Paleo Patrol: Primates of the Caribbean

The only monkeys you’ll find on the islands of the Caribbean today were brought there (intentionally or not) by people. But just a few thousand years ago, thriving populations of primates existed across the Caribbean. The discovery of exceptionally well-preserved monkey bones in the Dominican Republic is helping researchers better understand the evolutionary history of these now-extinct primates.

22 Jul 2010

Benchmarks: July 11, 1997: Neanderthal DNA unraveled

On July 11, 1997, six scientists announced they had sequenced DNA from a Neanderthal fossil. It was the first time anyone had analyzed the genetics of an extinct hominin, and the findings gave paleoanthropologists a new perspective on Neanderthals’ place in the human family tree.
The team, led by Svante Pääbo, then at the University of Munich in Germany, recovered the DNA from an upper arm bone. The bone was part of a collection of fossils discovered in 1856. Quarrymen working in the Feldhofer Cave in Germany’s Neander Valley found 16 bone fragments — including a skullcap, ribs, arms, legs and part of a hip — from several different individuals. The bones resembled human bones, but there were some striking differences: The skull had pronounced brow ridges and a low, sloping forehead, and the limb bones were extraordinarily thick.
11 Jul 2010

Paleo Patrol: Was mankind's first leap in a forest or savanna?

Last October, scientists formally introduced the world to Ardi the Ardipithecus, the well-preserved skeleton of a 4.4-million-year-old hominin found in Ethiopia. Eight months later, scientists have had time to digest the data from all 11 papers that were published in Science last fall regarding Ardi’s biology and ecology, and there is some dissent.

28 May 2010

Paleo Patrol: Neanderthal genome offers clues on what makes us human

Did “Clan of the Cave Bear” get it right after all?

Probably not, but at least one aspect of the ice age saga is true: Modern humans interbred with Neanderthals. In fact, for many of us, as much as 4 percent of our DNA may be Neanderthal DNA. That’s the conclusion of a group of 56 scientists who have just announced today in Science that they’ve completed a draft sequence of the Neanderthal genome.

06 May 2010

Paleo Patrol: A hominin family reunion at the Smithsonian

Last month, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., unveiled its new (permanent) human evolution exhibit: the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins. The exhibit seeks to answer the millennia-old question, What does it mean to be human?

29 Apr 2010

Third hominin coexisted with modern humans and Neanderthals

Modern humans and Neanderthals lived side by side on the Eurasian landscape for tens of thousands of years — but it turns out they weren’t alone, much to researchers’ surprise. A team of researchers has found a hominin bone in a Siberian cave containing DNA that doesn’t match up with either known hominin species at that time, the researchers reported in Nature today, indicating that these humans shared the continent with a third, unknown hominin.

24 Mar 2010