Stone Tools Date Early Humans in North Africa to 2.4 Million Years Ago

Archaeological excavation at Ain Boucherit, Algeria. Mathieu Duval, Author provided Ancient stone tools found in what is now Algeria show early humans likely spread across Africa more rapidly than first thought.    By Dr. Mathieu Duval (left) and Dr. Mohamed Sahnouni (right) / 11.29.2018 Duval: ARC Future Fellow, Griffith University Sahnouni: Archéologue et professeur, National Center for Research on Human Evolution (CENIEH) When did early humans first arrive in[…]

Drawing the Human Animal

Charles Le Brun, The relation between the human physiognomy and that of the brute creation / Wellcome Collection While the ‘science’ of physiognomy defined character by physical characteristics, a series of extraordinary 17th-century drawings goes a step further. Melding animal and human features, what do these images have to say about our hidden inclinations? By Allison[…]

Violence in Ancient Rome: Behavioral and Ideological Evolution

Inside Rome’s Colosseum visitors can view the chambers that once held animals and contenders below the arena floor. / Photo by Senior Airman Alex Wieman, Wikimedia  Commons The Roman state imposed a behavioral change that would over time alter the mix of genotypes, thus facilitating a subsequent ideological change. By Dr. Peter Frost Professor of Anthropology[…]

Homo Sapiens: Beyond DNA to Symbolic Communication

Skull of a Homo sapiens (a.k.a. modern human) individual, on display at the Harvard Museum of Natural History / Photo by Chris Devers, Flickr, Creative Commons Homo sapiens (‘wise man’), or modern humans, are the only species of human still around today. By Emma Groeneveld / 03.31.2017 Historian Introduction Homo sapiens (‘wise man’), or modern[…]

Human Evolution: The Many Mysteries of Homo Naledi

This hand was discovered in articulation and all bones are represented except for the pisiform. / Photo by Lee Roger Berger Research Team, Wikimedia Commons More than 1500 fossils from the Rising Star cave system in South Africa have been assigned to a new human species, Homo naledi, which displays a unique combination of primitive[…]

Synthetic Palaeontology: Reconstructing Ancient Life with Modern Technology

Reconstruction of ancient life and environments is an extremely challenging problem. By Dr. William Irvin Sellers Professor, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences University of Manchester Abstract One of the major goals of palaeontology is the reconstruction of life on earth at specific times in the past. The major pieces of evidence that we can[…]

Natural Selection in Action: Hurricanes Irma and Maria Affected Island Lizards

Holding on in hurricane-force winds. Colin Donihue, Creative Commons In the wake of two hurricanes in the Turks and Caicos Islands, researchers document for the first time that catastrophic storms can be agents of natural selection, influencing how species evolve. By Dr. Colin Donihue / 07.25.2018 Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology Harvard University The Turks and Caicos anole is a small brown[…]

The Neanderthal-Sapiens Connection

Skulls of Homo sapiens (left) and Neanderthal (right) from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. This derivative work shows the skulls from the original display on a plain black background and with the annotation removed. / Photo by hairymuseummatt, Wikimedia Commons Genetic research has shown that the Neanderthals are a sister group to us – we share a common[…]

Rhythms of Change: The Victorian Science Poems of May Kendall

Ammonite fossil / Photo by Becks, Wikimedia Commons Nineteenth-century England saw a major revolution in the scientific understanding of the natural world. By Olivia Rosane / 05.17.2018 Nineteenth-century England saw a major revolution in the scientific understanding of the natural world. Charles Lyell’s 1830s Principles of Geology explained how landscapes were shaped and reshaped by daily processes like[…]

Bringing the Ocean Home

“The Ancient Wrasse”, a detail from the frontispiece to The Aquarium (1856, 2nd edition) — Biodiversity Library Bernd Brunner on the English naturalist Philip Henry Gosse and how his 1854 book The Aquarium, complete with spectacular illustrations and a dizzy dose of religious zeal, sparked a craze for the “ocean garden” that gripped Victorian Britain. By Bernd Brunner /[…]

Mother’s Milk Holds the Key to Unlocking an Evolutionary Mystery from the Last Ice Age

Sunrise at noon in the Arctic. Little exposure to sun was a piece of the genetic puzzle. Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, CC BY Why was one gene mutation that affects hair, teeth, sweat glands and breasts ubiquitous among ice age Arctic people? New research points to the advantage it provided for ancestors of Native Americans. By Dr. Leslea Hlusko / 04.26.2018 Associate Professor of Integrative[…]

Disease Evolution: Our Long History of Fighting Viruses

A virus is essentially an information system (encoded in DNA or RNA) surrounded by a protective coat. Tom Thai/Flickr, Creative Commons Humans have a deep history of viral infections, the evidence for which dates back to ancient DNA from Egyptian mummies. By Dr. Peter C. Doherty / 04.26.2016 Laureate Professor The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity A virus[…]

First Peoples: Two Ancient Ancestries ‘Reconverged’ with Settling of South America

New research using ancient DNA finds that a population split after people first arrived in North America was maintained for millennia before mixing again before or during the expansion of humans into the southern continent. Recent research has suggested that the first people to enter the Americas split into two ancestral branches, the northern and[…]

Testing Ancient Human Hearing via Fossilized Ear Bones

3D virtual reconstruction of two-million-year-old ear. Rolf Quam, CC BY-ND Beyond the cool factor of figuring out hominin hearing capacities two million years ago, these findings could help answer the tantalizing question of when did human vocalized language first emerge. By Dr. Rolf Quam / 09.25.2015 Associate Professor of Anthropology Binghamton University (SUNY) How did the world sound to our ancient human relatives[…]

Silk Road Trading Helped Produce the Modern Horse

Yeah, they messed with my genes. attawayjl Research shows that the genes of the modern horse were forged along the way. By Dr. William Feeney / 09.12.2013 Postdoctoral Research Fellow, School of Biological Sciences The University of Queensland The Silk Road snaked across continents for more than a thousand years, shaping civilisations in East and West.[…]

Ancient Human Bone Reveals When We Bred with Neanderthals

Behold the femur. Bence Viola, MPI EVA Radiocarbon-dated to around 45,000 years old. By Dr. Daniel Zadik / 10.24.2014 Postdoctoral Researcher in Genetics University of Leicester When a human bone was found on a gravelly riverbank by a bone-carver who was searching for mammoth ivory, little did he know it would provide the oldest modern-human genome yet sequenced. The[…]

How Tiny Black Spots Shed Light on the Homo Naledi Mystery

A replica of a Homo naledi skull. GCIS/Flickr, CC BY-ND New evidence suggests that Homo naledi didn’t deliberately deposit their dead in a hidden chamber. By Dr. Francis Thackeray / 07.27.2016 Phillip Tobias Chair in Paleoanthropology Evolutionary Studies Institute University of the Witwatersrand Many questions have been thrown up by the discovery in South Africa of a previously unidentified human relative,[…]

How Yersinia Pestis Evolved Its Ability to Kill Millions via Pneumonic Plague

How did Yersinia pestis bacteria start to target the lungs and become so deadly? National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, CC BY It’s a deadly bacterium that can spread like wildfire. New research suggests Yersinia pestisfirst developed its ability to cause lung infection and then evolved to be highly infectious.    By Dr. Daniel Zimbler (left) and Dr. Wyndham Lathem (right) / 06.30.2015 Zimbler: Senior Scientist, Microbiology[…]

African Tools Push Back the Origin of Human Technological Innovation

By about 320,000 years ago, humans in Kenya began using color pigments and manufacturing more sophisticated tools. Human Origins Program, Smithsonian Scientists have discovered sophisticated tools in Kenya that are much older than expected.    By Dr. Patrick Randolph-Quinney (left) and Dr. Anthony Sinclair (right) / 03.15.2018 Randolph-Quinney: Reader/Associate Professor in Biological and Forensic Anthropology, University of Central Lancashire Sinclair: Professor of Archaeological[…]

Combining Linguistics, Archaeology, and Ancient DNA Genetics to Understand Deep Human History

TonelloPhotography/Shutterstock.com Each discipline tells us only part of the story. And so the truest picture of prehistory comes from triangulating these independent lines of evidence.    By Dr. Michael Dunn (left) and Dr. Annemarie Verkerk (right) / 03.29.2018 Dunn: Professor in Linguistics and Philology, Uppsala University Verkerk: Postdoctoral Research Associate in Linguistics, Max Planck Institute for the[…]

Studying Chimpanzee Calls for Clues about the Origins of Human Language

Nisarg Desai observes wild chimps known as Sandi, Ferdinand and Siri in Tanzania. Michael Wilson, CC BY-ND Do chimpanzee talk to each other? Scientists follow and record chimpanzees in the wild to find out – and to fill in details about how human language might have evolved. By Dr. Michael Wilson / 05.08.2018 Associate Professor of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior University of Minnesota Freud, Wilkie and the[…]

Our Ancient Obsession with Food: Human as Evolutionary Master Chefs

A reconstruction of Homo erectus making fire, Zhoukoudian Museum, China. Darren Curnoe, Author provided Few of us pause to reflect on the hugely important role diet plays in the ecology and evolutionary history of all species. By Dr. Darren Curnoe / 06.05.2015 Associate Professor Biological Anthropology and Archaeological Science UNSW Australia Amateur cook-offs like the hugely popular MasterChef series now in its[…]

Imprinting and Attachment in Biology

A Mallard Duck hen calls vigorously as she leads her ducklings who have already formed an attachment to her. / Photo by Crystal Marie Lopez (2010), Flickr, Creative Commons By Dr. Patrick Bateson Former Professor of Ethology, University of Cambridge Former President of the Zoological Society of London Introduction[1] Imprinting provides a striking example of[…]

The Reason We Like the Tidy Feelings of Home is Evolutionary

James Vaughan/Flickr By Dr. John S. Allen / 04.25.2016 Neuroanthropologist and Research Scientist University of Southern California Is your house tidier than it used to be? If it is, then you have probably read Marie Kondo’s international bestselling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (2011). Kondo’s book is ostensibly a manual for home improvement. She suggests[…]

Darwin’s Polar Bear

“Polar Bear”, artist unknown, ca. 1870s — Library of Congress Musings upon the whys and wherefores of polar bears, particularly in relation to their forest-dwelling cousins, played an important but often overlooked role in the development of evolutionary theory. By Michael Engelhard / 02.21.2018 Anthropologist As any good high school student should know, the beaks of[…]