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[…]

The Oldest Evidence of Movement and What We Know about Life on Earth

Newly found fossils point to a link between a rise in atmospheric oxygen and the first emergence of complex life on Earth. In a suspension of disbelief, the countless readers who have picked up J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books have readily accepted that Ents, the ancient treelike creatures of the fictional Fangorn forest, walk, talk[…]

How Seeing Snakes in the Grass Helped Primates to Evolve

Vision is a window onto the world, its qualities determined by natural selection. Evolution has favoured the modification and expansion of primate vision. Compared with other mammals, primates have, for example, greater depth perception from having forward-facing eyes with extensively overlapping visual fields, sharper visual acuity, more areas in the brain that are involved with[…]

Lucy’s Shattered Bones: Our Ancestors Lived a Dangerous Life in Trees

Humans stand out among all the mammals as being the only species to totter about on two feet. We are the bipedal apes. A ground breaking study of the bones of a 3.2 million year old human ancestor (‘Lucy’) revealed that she died from the crushing impact of a fall from high in the trees. This exciting[…]

The Significance of the Earliest Beads

A key requisite for the use and appreciation of all beads and pendants is a level of hominin self-awareness that essentially expresses full cognitive modernity. Abstract This paper attempts to explore beyond the predictable and banal archaeological explanations relating to early beads and pendants. It recounts replication experiments to establish aspects of technology so as[…]

Plausibility of Current Models of Abiogenesis (Origin of Life)

Study has led to a much deeper understanding of what we mean when we speak of “life”. By Matt Brauer In my one post I mentioned in passing the feature article appearing in November’s issue of PLoS biology. In that paper, Richard Robinson describes some of the difficulties faced by researchers into the Origin of Life. The origin of replicating[…]

The Emotional Lives of Animals

Grief, friendship, gratitude, wonder, and other things we animals experience. Scientific research shows that many animals are very intelligent and have sensory and motor abilities that dwarf ours. Dogs are able to detect diseases such as cancer and diabetes and warn humans of impending heart attacks and strokes. Elephants, whales, hippopotamuses, giraffes, and alligators use[…]

What’s in a Name?: The Taxonomy and Phylogeny of Early Homo

Hominin systematics, encompassing both taxonomy and phylogeny, has significant implications for how the evolution of species and traits are understood and communicated. Abstract Hominin systematics, encompassing both taxonomy and phylogeny (Strait, 2013), has significant implications for how the evolution of species and traits are understood and communicated. Following a recent influx of fossils (e.g., Brown et[…]

Ancient DNA Changes Everything We Know about the Evolution of Elephants

DNA studies reveal that African elephants belong to a very successful and widespread family. For a long time, zoologists assumed that there were only two species of elephant: one Asian and one African. Then genetic analyses suggested that the African Elephant could be divided into two distinct species, the African Forest and African Savannah elephants. Now[…]

Quests for Fire: Neanderthals and Science Fiction

By 1914, paleoanthropology recognized five species of human ancestors, two sub-species, and the tangible evidence of humanity’s antiquity proved utterly captivating. The Quest Begins: Neanderthals Meet Science Fiction In 1856, workers at a limestone quarry in the Neander Valley of Germany turned over a curious set of skeletal remains to a local amateur naturalist, Johann[…]