PALEO

paleo

The new kid on the block

In 2013, cave explorers discovered a trove of human-like fossils in the Rising Star Cave in South Africa. Since then, more than 1,500 fossils belonging to at least 15 individuals have been excavated from the site. The fossils display a mishmash of primitive and more advanced features that seem to place it somewhere between Australopithecus and early Homo species, such as a small cranial capacity closer to Australopiths, but with finer facial features, more like Homo.In 2013, cave explorers discovered a trove of human-like fossils in the Rising Star Cave in South Africa. Since then, more than 1,500 fossils belonging to at least 15 individuals have been excavated from the site. The fossils display a mishmash of primitive and more advanced features that seem to place it somewhere between Australopithecus and early Homo species, such as a small cranial capacity closer to Australopiths, but with finer facial features, more like Homo.

21 Aug 2016

Redefining Homo: Does our family tree need more branches?

Paleoanthropologists have traditionally used four traits to classify hominins as members of the genus Homo. But none of the criteria are very stringent, leading to an assortment of hominins with widely varying features being counted in the same genus. Some researchers think it’s time to scrap Homo and start over.
21 Aug 2016

Hominid vs. hominin

Before genetics came along and revealed just how closely modern humans and chimpanzees are related, humans were classified in their own family, Hominidae, separate from old world monkeys, which were in the family Pongidae.

21 Aug 2016

New dating of 'hobbit' sheds light on when it lived

Since 2004, when scientists first announced the discovery of fossil remains of a new species of hominin from Indonesia — dubbed Homo floresiensis and nicknamed “hobbits” due to the species’ meter-tall stature — researchers have been trying to pinpoint exactly when H. floresiensis lived and when it died off. Several recent studies shed light on the topic.

16 Aug 2016

Seeds may have saved bird-like dinosaurs from extinction

About 66 million years ago, nearly three-quarters of life on Earth, including all species of nonavian dinosaurs, were wiped out. However, a few species survived the mass extinction event, including the Neornithes, the ancestors of modern birds. A new study suggests they may have done so by relying on seeds when other food sources were scarce.

04 Aug 2016

Teeth hold clues to human success, Neanderthal decline

During the Upper Paleolithic, modern humans and Neanderthals coexisted until about 40,000 years ago, when Neanderthals went extinct for unknown reasons. Wear patterns on teeth from both humans and Neanderthals are providing insight into how different dietary strategies may have led to Homo sapiens’ success and the Neanderthals’ decline.

03 Aug 2016

Tully monster mystery solved

In 1958, an amateur fossil collector named Francis Tully found a strange fossil in a quarry near Morris, Ill., southwest of Chicago. Thousands more of the worm-like Tullimonstrum gregarium, better known as the “Tully monster,” were recovered from the same deposit — now a National Historic Landmark called Mazon Creek fossil beds. But the creature’s full appearance and just what sort of animal the Tully monster was have remained mysteries. In a new study, researchers have now finally identified it as a jawless fish, similar to modern lampreys.

02 Aug 2016

Cretaceous amber suggests societal behavior in insects is at least 100 million years old

Many insects are social animals. Some, including ants, form colonies with complex social hierarchies, wherein specific roles like reproduction and colony construction are assigned to specific groups of ants, like queens or workers, for example. This kind of sociality, known as eusociality, is found in many other insects, like beetles, honeybees and termites. When it evolved, however, has remained unclear. Until now, the earliest evidence of eusociality came from 20-million-year-old fossils, even though the insect lineages were known to be much older. But two new fossil discoveries have pushed the first known appearance of eusociality back by 80 million years.

04 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

Saving Mongolian wildlife, 80 million years after extinction

In the time of Velociraptor, 80 million years ago, southern Mongolia looked surprisingly like the Gobi Desert that exists there today. Animals roamed, nested and fought amid an arid climate while sand-soaked winds battered rocky outcrops. Today, walking along the Flaming Cliffs of Bayanzag, you may only notice one stark difference: Where Velociraptor and other dinosaurs once thrived, there are now only a few fossilized remains. And even those are endangered. Because of this, a small team of scientists, hired staff and volunteers is heading to Mongolia this fall to try to save them. 

27 Jun 2016

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