Summer Roundup: The Most Exciting News in Paleoanthropology!


Credit: Jessica Thompson.

It’s that time again. Fall is starting, the weather is getting cooler (though not here in Arizona), and many of us are looking toward the next academic year. But before we dive into the chaos of Fall semester, I’d like to look back over the summer and highlight some amazing science that was published recently in the field of paleoanthropology. Here are my top 4 favorites from this summer:

Marks on 3.4-million-year-old bones not due to trampling, analysis confirms

In a paper published in the Journal of Human Evolution, scientists reexamined damage on two specimens from Dikkika, Ethiopia (a long bone from an antelope sized creature and a rib bone buffalo sized animal) which were thought to possibly be cut marks–meaning that the hominins were butchering animal bones. The new analysis confirms that the damage to the bones most closely resemble a combination of purposeful cutting and percussion marks. Bottom line: it is starting to look like hominins were using stone tools 3.4 million years ago, about a million years BEFORE we thought.



Earliest baboon found at Malapa

Researchers from Wits University discovered a 2 million year old baboon fossil, the oldest baboon ever found. What’s EXTRA interesting about this? As many of you know, Malapa is a hominin-bearing site–in fact it’s part the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, the same site where the hominin species Australopithecus sediba was discovered in 2010. This tells us the baboons co-existed with hominins in this part of the world. How cool is that?

New 50,000-year-old remains may be a Neanderthal or Denisovan 

Fragments of an early human skull and rib were found at Strashnaya Cave in the Altai Mountains, Siberia. Discoverers are saying the fossils are at least 50,000 years old. A full analysis is pending, but in the meantime this seems pretty exciting.

Neanderthals had outsize effect on human biology

Picture: Andrey Krivoshapkin

Picture: Andrey Krivoshapkin

We know that hominin species, such as Neandertals, interbred with Homo sapiens. After knowing that, the question becomes how did those interbreeding events influenced human biology? Scientists are now beginning to get a clearer picture. For example, these genes may have included the tendency of modern humans to get asthma, skin diseases and more.

Alright so narrowing it down was tough. Check out these other cool things that have been happening in the paleoanthropology world this summer! Bonus links:

Early species had the equivalent of thousands more genes than we do now.

South African archaeological wonder-sites reveal more of the origins of our unity and diversity.

Old World monkey had tiny, complex brain. Brain complexity can evolve before brain size in primates.

How to Become a Primate Fossil by @HollyDunsworth

From the Field, Alia Gurtov, blog post from the Leakey Foundation @TheLeakeyFndtn

Obama meets Lucy! 

Origins Stories, the Leakey Foundation Podcast

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