Human Evolution

human evolution

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

Voices: Redefining humanity through energy use

What is it, exactly, that distinguishes us from other species? The definition of humankind has perplexed scientists, philosophers and theorists for centuries. DNA composition differentiates species in a technical sense, but that definition is hardly satisfying. Certainly there must be something more ethereal that separates us from “lower” forms of creatures. Over the centuries, several definitions have emerged — from using tools to speaking — but have then been proven insufficient in some heuristic way. So I propose another option: manipulating energy.

24 Mar 2010

Benchmarks: November 22, 1859: "On the Origin of Species" published

By David B. Williams

About a decade ago, I was fortunate enough to hold in my hands a first edition of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species.” The green cover was cracked and frayed. The cardboard backing protruded through the torn corners. I put the book down and stared at it in awe. The owner of this book was Asa Gray, one of America’s greatest botanists, an important early American supporter of natural selection, and a friend of Darwin’s.

23 Nov 2009

New cousin joins primate family tree - but it's also no missing link

Blogging on EARTH

Darwinius — the purported primate “missing link” that made headlines last spring — is back, sort of. Scientists have now found a close cousin of the primate — and they say the new fossil is no more a missing link than Darwinius was.

21 Oct 2009

The vital statistics

Ardipithecus ramidus was a hominid that lived in Ethiopia’s Afar region 4.4 million years ago. After spending more than a decade studying the species, scientists can now provide a sketch of what the hominid looked like:

Brain: Ardipithecus had a brain size similar to that of a female chimpanzee, about 300 to 350 cubic centimeters.

Stature: Standing 120 centimeters tall and weighing 50 kilograms, Ardipithecus was about the size of a chimpanzee.

01 Oct 2009

Not the oldest hominid

At 4.4 million years old, Ardipithecus ramidus is not the oldest known hominid. In 2002, scientists announced they had discovered a hominid skull from the Sahel region of Chad. Named Sahelanthropus tchadensis, the species dates to about 7 million years ago. And a few years earlier, scientists had announced the discovery of several hominid fossils, including a thigh bone, in Kenya that dated to about 6 million years ago. They named the species Orrorin tugenensis.

01 Oct 2009

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