A BIG Month for Paleoanthropology: March Roundup

A Jaw, Eagle Beads, & More!

Photo Courtesy William Kimbel

Photo Courtesy William Kimbel

To say that March was an interesting month for paleoanthropology would be a colossal understatement. March publications suggested revisions to the Homo genus, argued that Neandertals were skilled jewelry makers, and explored body diversity in hominins. But while you’re still digesting from the Ledi Jaw and the Kenyan pelvis, I’m here to tell you that even MORE interesting papers were published this March. Here’s a roundup of some of my favorite articles from this month. Bonus: two of them take a new look at old fossils, making the historian of science in me very happy.

March Roundup 

  • Neandertals divided labor by sex. A team of scientists working in Madrid analyzed tooth ware, including chipping (ow!), in Neandertal teeth and identified wear patterns based on sex and age. This suggests that Neandertals divvied up chores based on age and sex.  (1).
  • Java man revisited. A team used computed tomography to reexamine the Trinil femur discovered by Eugene Dubois in 1891. Dubois associated the femur with the Java Man skullcap, using the leg bone to argue that his Pithecanthropus erectus (which later became Homo erectus) was, in fact, erect. The validity of this association has been heavily debated, and this team is attempting to settle the question. They argue that the femur “shows none of the characteristics typical of early Homo femora” and is likely more recent. (2).homo-erectus-300px
  • A new tooth from Lake Turkana. The molar dates back to 750,000 years, a time period called the Middle Pleistocene. Scientists have recovered very few Middle Pleistocene hominin fossils in from that area, so this is an exciting find for the West Turkana Paleo Project. (3).
  • Homo erectus shoulder was strong and accurate, according to a team that analyzed competing models of H. erectus shoulder reconstructions. The team suggests that the capacity for high speed throwing may date back to two million years ago. (4).
  • Big toe structure differs in apes and humans in important ways. While of course this is old news, scientists have “combined visualization techniques, engineering principles, and statistical analysis into a powerful new way” that allows them to analyze the structure of bones such as toe bones, providing information on how toe bones bear weight differently in different creatures (5).
  • Neandertal ribs. A team reconstructed Neandertal ribs from Spain, finding that they were less curved than those of Homo sapiens, which they argue will help settle the debate over the size and variation of the Neanderthal chest, leading to a better understanding of these strong creatures. (6). Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 8.18.23 PM
  • Neandertal ear is different. The fractured fossils of the La Ferrassie Neandertal infant went through forty-seven possible refits in this study. The authors ultimately argued that the original determination needed revision, and also that this fossil shesd light on anatomical structures of Neandertals including the inner ear (7).

And In Case You’ve Been Living Under a Rock, here’s a recap on the major stories that made the news this month:

  • Homo jaw discovered in Ethiopia, 2.8 million years old, (which I wrote about here).
  • Neandertal Jewelry made out of eagle talons (I also wrote about).
  • Hominin pelvis and femur from Kenya suggest body diversity two million years ago, according to Leakys and other authors.

These are just a few of the things I collected this month, what important announcements did I miss? Let me know here or on Twitter @FossilHistory. Thanks for reading and cheers to April being half as exciting as March!


  1. Estalrrich, A., & Rosas, A. (2015). Division of labor by sex and age in Neandertals: an approach through the study of activity-related dental wear.Journal of human evolution, 80, 51-63.
  2. Ruff, C. B., Puymerail, L., Macchiarelli, R., Sipla, J., & Ciochon, R. L. (2015). Structure and composition of the Trinil femora: Functional and taxonomic implications. Journal of human evolution, 80, 147-158.
  3. Maddux, S. D., Ward, C. V., Brown, F. H., Plavcan, J. M., & Manthi, F. K. (2015). A 750,000 year old hominin molar from the site of Nadung’a, West Turkana, Kenya. Journal of human evolution.
  4. Roach, N. T., & Richmond, B. G. (2015). Clavicle length, throwing performance and the reconstruction of the Homo erectus shoulder. Journal of human evolution.
  5. Jashashvili, T., Dowdeswell, M. R., Lebrun, R., & Carlson, K. J. (2015). Cortical structure of hallucal metatarsals and locomotor adaptations in hominoids. PloS one.
  6. Bastir, M., García-Martínez, D., Estalrrich, A., García-Tabernero, A., Huguet, R., Ríos, L., … & Rosas, A. (2015). The relevance of the first ribs of the El Sidrón site (Asturias, Spain) for the understanding of the Neandertal thorax.Journal of human evolution.
  7. Gómez-Olivencia, A., Crevecoeur, I., & Balzeau, A. (2015). La Ferrassie 8 Neandertal child reloaded: New remains and re-assessment of the original collection. Journal of Human Evolution.

5 thoughts on “A BIG Month for Paleoanthropology: March Roundup

  1. Exciting stuff. Only marred by misuse of “ware” and “bare.” Teeth WEAR and big toes BEAR weight. Spellcheck is not proofreading.


  2. Pingback: Fossils Revisited: New Methods Applied to Old Bones | Fossil History

  3. Pingback: Whewell’s Gazettte: Vol. #42 | Whewell's Ghost

  4. Pingback: Another Big Month for Paleoanthropology: April Roundup | Fossil History

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s