Prehistoric Oldowan Tools

2.6-million-year-old tools from Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. Introduction The appearance of simple stone tools, widely known as Oldowan tools or the Oldowan industry, marked the beginning of our technological revolution. To our knowledge, these artifacts appeared around 2.6 million years ago in the savannahs of Eastern Africa. Today, the Oldowan is still the earliest, universally acknowledged stone tool[…]

Evolution and an Ancient ‘Arms Race’ for Resources

Larger brains lead to a broader social network. Human society rewards individuals who can handle complex social interactions and control large groups of people. Extreme examples of this power are comedians who can fill stadiums entertaining 70,000 people, or politicians who, through their rhetoric and charm, convince millions of us to vote for them so[…]

Prehistoric Human Footprints: A Snapshot of Ancient Human Behavior

The footprints of over 20 different prehistoric people show possible evidence for sexual division of labor in this ancient community. Introduction When it comes to reconstructing how ancient creatures lived, palaeontologists like us are as much detectives as we are scientists. We’re used to partial evidence, dead ends and red herrings. It’s especially hard to[…]

Climate Effects on Human Evolution and Technology

Key human adaptations evolved in response to environmental instability. Climate Fluctuation Paleoanthropologists – scientists who study human evolution – have proposed a variety of ideas about how environmental conditions may have stimulated important developments in human origins.  Diverse species have emerged over the course of human evolution, and a suite of adaptations have accumulated over[…]

Prehistoric Bird Skull Found in Amber Was Tiny Predator in Time of Giant Dinosaurs

The skull of Oculudentavis provides new clues into the transition from dinosaurs to birds and may be smallest of either ever found. Introduction In 2016, our colleague Xing Lida held up a small piece of polished, deeply yellow amber. As sunlight shone through the ancient resin, Lida saw the outline of a pristinely preserved, amazingly[…]

Phantasmagoria Dinosauria: An Overview of Earth’s Mesozoic Rulers

The taxon Dinosauria was formally named by the English palaeontologist Richard Owen in 1842. Introduction Dinosaurs are an extinct, diverse, largely terrestrial group of vertebrate animals of the Sauropsid orders Saurischia (lizard-hipped) and Ornithischia (bird-hipped) and were the dominant land reptiles for over 160 million years, during the Mesozoic era. Dinosaurs first appeared approximately 230[…]

New Dinosaur Relative Was ‘King’ of Antarctica

The discovery of a new species related to dinosaurs, an iguana-sized reptile whose genus name, Antarctanax, means “Antarctic king.” Introduction Antarctica wasn’t always a frozen wasteland. About 250 million years ago, it was covered in forests and rivers, and the temperature rarely dipped below freezing. It was also home to diverse wildlife, including early relatives[…]

Examining the Fossil Record and Prehistoric Life in Antarctica

It is clear that a major extinction event occurred around Antarctica in the period 2–3 million years ago. Introduction Life has been on earth for about 3.5 billion years. Until about 575 million years ago, all life was microscopic plant life. Before that time, life in the Antarctic was very different from the way it[…]

Human Origins and ‘Ghost’ DNA in West Africans

Our own species — Homo sapiens — lived alongside other groups that split off from the same genetic family tree at different times. About 50,000 years ago, ancient humans in what is now West Africa apparently procreated with another group of ancient humans that scientists didn’t know existed. There aren’t any bones or ancient DNA[…]

Investigating Homo Floresiensis and the Myth of the Ebu Gogo

According to folklore, such tiny, hairy people as her once roamed the tropical forests alongside modern humans. An ancient legend from the Indonesian island of Flores speaks of a mysterious, wild grandmother of the forest who eats everything: the ‘ebu gogo’. According to folklore, such tiny, hairy people as her once roamed the tropical forests[…]

Ditsong’s Dioramas: Putting a Body on a Fossil and a Fossil in a Narrative

Dioramas have a powerful explanatory power as tangible reconstructions. Introduction His eyes were vacant—glassy, even. Blood flowed from his head and his hands dragged next to him, fingers rolling lifelessly in the brown African dirt. His mouth was frozen open in terror, his head firmly clenched between a leopard’s jaws. The cat’s snarl was practically[…]

Primate Research Pushes Timeline for Speech Evolution Back by 27 Million Years

Researchers say it’s time to finally discard a decades-old theory about the origins of human language. Introduction Sound doesn’t fossilize. Language doesn’t either. Even when writing systems have developed, they’ve represented full-fledged and functional languages. Rather than preserving the first baby steps toward language, they’re fully formed, made up of words, sentences and grammar carried[…]

Primate Activity with Stones Hints at How Human Tool Use Evolved

Studying animal tooling can provide clues to the mysteries of human evolution. Human beings used to be defined as “the tool-maker” species. But the uniqueness of this description was challenged in the 1960s when Dr. Jane Goodall discovered that chimpanzees will pick and modify grass stems to use to collect termites. Her observations called into[…]

Neanderthal Bones: Signs of Their Sex Lives

Lately, much news from the field of paleoarchaeology and anthropology has centered on Neanderthal bedfellows. By Dr. Anna GoldfieldArchaeologist In a cave tucked into the limestone hills of the Asturias region of Spain, there lie the remains of a group of 13 Neanderthals that date to between 50,600 and 47,300 years ago. The site is[…]

The Neanderthal Throat: Did They Speak?

At the very least, in order for spoken language to be a possibility, a species has to have the right anatomical equipment. By Dr. Anna GoldfieldArchaeologist The first two pages of Claire Cameron’s novel The Last Neanderthal contain a glossary—a handful of words used by the family of Neanderthals at the center of the story.[…]

The Neanderthal Brain: Clues About Cognition

Was there something about the Neanderthals’ cognitive capacity that didn’t measure up? By Dr. Anna GoldfieldArchaeologist One of the most tantalizing topics about Neanderthals is their cognition: how it developed and whether it was much different from patterns of thought in Homo sapiens. We know from the archaeological record that much of Neanderthal hunting, foraging,[…]

Unraveling the Mystery of Human Bipedality

Paleoanthropologist Carol Ward explains how walking upright marked a milestone in hominin history. By Dr. Tom GarlinghouseArchaeologist/Anthropologist Bipedality, the ability to walk upright on two legs, is a hallmark of human evolution. Many primates can stand up and walk around for short periods of time, but only humans use this posture for their primary mode[…]

The Neanderthal Diet—From Teeth to Guts

Some populations of Neanderthals were definitely more carnivorous than others. By Dr. Anna GoldfieldArchaeologist One of the more tenacious misconceptions about Neanderthals is that they were exclusively meat eaters. Sure, in some of the colder regions of Europe plant food would have been very seasonally limited, so meat was almost certainly a large part of[…]

Neanderthal Legs and Feet—Suited to Sprinting

Even genetics support the idea that Neanderthals were better sprinters than runners. By Dr. Anna GoldfieldArchaeologist If you’re like me, you view long-distance running as a somewhat unrealistic aspiration and see those people who do it well as remarkable creatures. The truth, though, is that Homo sapiens are well-designed for loping along for long distances[…]

Prehistoric Bones of Women in Russian Cave Links to Modern Indigenous People

The bones show interbreeding Neanderthal and Denosivan humans. This article reprinted from RFE/RL. A piece of bone from a cave in Russia has yielded what may be the biggest archaeological find of the year, media reported on August 30. The bone belonged to an ancient human who had a Neanderthal mother and a Denisovan father.[…]

Evolution Is a Tree, Not a Straight Line

If you go by editorial cartoons and T-shirts, you might have the impression that evolution proceeds as an orderly march toward a preordained finish line. But that’s not right at all. Introduction Evolution doesn’t follow a preordained, straight path. Yet images abound that suggest otherwise. From museum displays to editorial cartoons, evolution is depicted as[…]

Charles Darwin and the Voyage of the ‘Beagle’

Darwin to understand the convergence of disparate scales of geological and human history. The event now known as “the voyage of the Beagle” comprises Charles Darwin’s circumnavigation as ship’s naturalist on the second of three surveying voyages by H.M.S. Beagle; the writings published as his first book, the Journal of Researches; and the genesis of his theory[…]

‘Piltdown Man’: The Legacy of a Great Scientific Hoax

The University of Melbourne’s anatomy museum features fossil models from an entirely fictional early human; a forgery that derailed the study of our evolution for decades. ‘Piltdown man’ was the name given to a handful of fossil fragments found at a site in East Sussex, UK in 1912. The fossils, quickly identified as being from[…]

What Neanderthal Teeth Tell Us about the Prehistoric World

Astonishing new research shows that fossil teeth, like trees, contain detailed records of the environments in which they grew. Increasingvariation in the climate has been implicated as a possible factor in the evolution of our species (Homo sapiens) 300,000 years ago, as well as the more recent demise of our enigmatic evolutionary cousins, the Neanderthals. But[…]

New Hominin Shakes the Family Tree—Again

What does the discovery of Homo luzonensis mean for our understanding of humanity’s history? This week, anthropologists working in the Philippines unveil new fossils that they say belong to a previously undiscovered speciesof human relatives. The fossils come from Callao Cave, on the northern island of Luzon, and are at least 50,000 years old. The[…]

‘Palestine Man’: The Prehistoric Skull from the ‘Cave of the Robbers’

Discovered in 1925, the skull was the first fossilized archaic human found in Western Asia. Introduction Mugharet el-Zuttiyeh (“Cave of the Robbers”)[1] is a prehistoric archaeological site in Upper Galilee, Israel.[2] It is situated 800 m (2,600 ft) from the Nahal Amud outlet, approximately 30 m (98 ft) above the wadi bed (148 m (486 ft) below sea level). It was found to house a fossil today known[…]

‘Micro Snails’ Help Unlock Details of Ancient Earth’s Biological Evolution

Using the family relationships between single-celled protists alive today, researchers hypothesized what their evolutionary ancestors looked like – and then looked in the fossil record for matches. Every step you take, you’re likely walking on a world of unseen and undescribed microbial diversity. And you don’t need to head out into nature to find these[…]