-Live Science Staff
The discovery of a 47-million-year-old fossil primate that is said to be a human ancestor was announced and unveiled today at a press conference in New York City.
Known as "Ida," the nearly complete transitional fossil is 20 times older than most fossils that provide evidence for human evolution.
It shows characteristics from the very primitive non-human evolutionary line (prosimians, such as lemurs), but is more related to the human evolutionary line (anthropoids, such as monkeys, apes, and humans), said Norwegian paleontologist Jørn Hurum of University of Oslo Natural History Museum.
In a rare congruence of new evidence, two fossil jaws cast a fused beam of light on one of the darkest mysteries in human evolution: the origin of our genus Homo. The two lower jaws—one a reconstruction of a pivotal specimen found half a century ago, the other freshly plucked from the badlands of Ethiopia—point to East Africa as the birthplace of our evolutionary lineage.
The new Ethiopian fossil, announced online by the journal Science, pushes the arrival of Homo on the East African landscape back almost half a million years, to 2.8 million years ago. The date is tantalizingly close to the last known appearance, around three million years ago, of Australopithecus afarensis, an upright-walking, small-brained species best known from the skeleton called Lucy, believed by many scientists to be the direct ancestor of our genus.
Analysis of sediments at two gravesites at Lake Mungo confirms that Australia is the site of the world's oldest known burial with red ochre and the oldest cremation,
and provides additional evidence that early humans first reached Australia about 50,000 years ago.
Mungo Man and Mungo Lady, as they are known to the local Aborigines, both died and were buried around 40,000 years ago, reports a team of scientists. "Mungo Man and Mungo Lady are both the same age, inseparable in time," said Jim Bowler, a geomorphologist and professor at the University of Melbourne and lead author of the study.
"We now have a picture of a real community on the lake shores at 40,000 years ago (plus or minus 2,000 years)."
The creation story of the Dogon people of the Bandiagara cliffs in southern Mali and the plains of northern Burkina Faso in the area of the Niger bend in West Africa is one of the most elaborate and fascinating traditional explanations of the origins of the world and of human culture.
Unlike biblical and similar stories of creation in other African oral traditions, in the Dogon creation story, the idea of an all-powerful and all-knowing divine creator is subordinated to an evolutionary process in which God (Amma) emerges as a supernatural but imperfect progenitor.
In place of the traditional idea of creation out of nothing, the Dogon creation story offers through the magic of the divine logos a more scientific explanation that anticipates the modern big bang theory. In the Dogon creation story, we can see a projection into the cosmos of ideas that essentially belong to reproductive biology.
-Charles Q. Choi
However, despite widespread support for the idea that the earliest Americans are the ancestors of modern Native Americans, the ancestry of the first people to inhabit the Americas was long debated because the face and head features of the oldest-known American skeletons do not look much like those of modern Native Americans.
"Modern Native Americans closely resemble people of China, Korea, and Japan, but the oldest American skeletons do not," Chatters said. The earliest American skeletons have longer, narrower skulls than modern Native Americans, and smaller, shorter faces.
All in all, the earliest Americans more closely resemble modern peoples of Africa, Australia and the Southern Pacific Rim. "This has led to speculation that perhaps the first Americans and Native Americans came from different homelands, or migrated from Asia at different stages in their evolution," Chatters said.
The first modern Britons, who lived about 10,000 years ago, had “dark to black” skin, a groundbreaking DNA analysis of Britain’s oldest complete skeleton has revealed.
The fossil, known as Cheddar Man, was unearthed more than a century ago in Gough’s Cave in Somerset. Intense speculation has built up around Cheddar Man’s origins and appearance because he lived shortly after the first settlers crossed from continental Europe to Britain at the end of the last ice age. People of white British ancestry alive today are descendants of this population.
It was initially assumed that Cheddar Man had pale skin and fair hair, but his DNA paints a different picture, strongly suggesting he had blue eyes, a very dark brown to black complexion and dark curly hair.
The San people of southern Africa, who have lived as hunter-gatherers for thousands of years, are likely to be the oldest population of humans on Earth, according to the biggest and most detailed analysis of African DNA.
The San, also known as bushmen, are directly descended from the original population of early human ancestors who gave rise to all other groups of Africans and, eventually, to the people who left the continent to populate other parts of the world.
A study of 121 distinct populations of modern-day Africans has found that they are all descended from 14 ancestral populations and that the differences and similarities of their genes closely follows the differences and similarities of their spoken languages.
The scientists analyzed the genetic variation within the DNA of more than 3,000 Africans and found that the San were among the most genetically diverse group, indicating that they are probably the oldest continuous population of humans on the continent – and on Earth.
The myriad of skin tones and eye colors that humans express around the world are interesting and wonderful in their variety. Research continues on how humans acquired the traits they now have and when, in order to complete the puzzle that is our ancient human history. Now, a recent analysis by anthropologists suggests that the light skin color and the tallness associated with European genetics are relatively recent traits to the continent.
An international team of researchers as headed by Harvard University’s Dr. Iain Mathieson put forth a study at the 84th annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists recently.
Based on 83 human samples from Holocene Europe as analyzed under the 1000 Genomes Project, it is now found that for the majority of the time that humans have lived in Europe, the people had dark skin, and the genes signifying light skin only appear within the past 8,000 years.
-Peter Schmidt and Donald H. Avery
Western scientists and students of history have long explained the iron bloomery process by the evidence available from European archeology. Ethnographic, technological, and archeological research into the technological life of the Haya of northwestern Tanzania show that these people and their forebears 1500 to 2000 years ago practiced a highly advanced iron smelting technology based on preheating principles and, as a result, produced carbon steel. This sophisticated technology may have evolved as an adaptation to overexploited forest resources. These discoveries are significant for the history of Africa and the history of metallurgy.
-Interview with Dr. Boyd E. Graves
After beginning his research on the AIDS pandemic in 1992, Dr. Boyd Graves discovered in February 1999 the greatest evidence, to date, of records and reports of the experiments that led to the development of what the world now knows as the AIDS virus. That document is the “1971 Flow Chart of the Special Virus Program of the United States.” Dr. Graves submitted this flowchart as evidence to the Sixth Circuit Federal Court in a case that named the President of the United States as a defendant to answer a petition acknowledging the authenticity of the Flow Chart.