As the human species evolved from Paleolithic to modern times, our bodies have changed to fit the world around us. But with the human landscape moving quickly from the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions to the modern day of smartphones and junk food, are our bodies able to keep up?
Evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman discusses how human bodies evolved from our ape ancestors, and how this evolution continues to affect our bodies and their ailments to this day.
Some highlights from the past week. The first two are my work area while I’m working with the PVT fossil collection and the second two are the work area while I’m helping Peter out with the conservation of the Rising Star material. The stuff on the benches is only the craniodental and lower limb remains out for drying. I’m currently in the process of cleaning the upper limb material but that’s on a bench off to the side of what’s pictured. Peter is doing the exponentially cooler work of refitting the crania. Bad. Ass.
Finally, we have the original Taung Child, as held by Lee Berger. I can’t tell you what a privilege it is to be working with all this material. Hallowed ground, my friends.
- from TurkanaBasinVideo
“Time-lapse video of the excavation of very large, well-preserved elephant skull from the Turkana Basin in northern Kenya. The skull was discovered in a locality known simply as “Area 13,” an hour’s drive from TBI’s research facility near the village of Ileret.”
(Source: Turkana Basin Video)
Publication of New Book: “Shaping Humanity—How Science, Art, and Imagination Help Us Understand Our Origins”
- by Palaeoartist John Gurche
“What did earlier humans really look like? What was life like for them, millions of years ago? How do we know? In this book, internationally renowned paleoartist John Gurche describes the extraordinary process by which he creates forensically accurate and hauntingly realistic representations of our ancient human ancestors. Inspired by a lifelong fascination with all things prehistoric, and gifted with a unique artistic vision, Gurche has studied fossil remains, comparative ape and human anatomy, and forensic reconstruction for over three decades. His artworks appear in world-class museums and publications ranging from National Geographic to the journal Science, and he is widely known for his contributions to Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park and a number of acclaimed television specials. For the Smithsonian Institution’s groundbreaking David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins, opened in 2010, Gurche created fifteen sculptures representing six million years of human history. In Shaping Humanity he relates how he worked with a team of scientists to depict human evolution in sculpture for the new hall. He reveals the debates and brainstorming that surround these often controversial depictions, and along the way he enriches our awareness of the various paths of human evolution and humanity’s stunning uniqueness in the history of life on Earth.
Award-winning paleo-artist John Gurche is artist-in-residence, Museum of the Earth, Paleontological Research Institute, Ithaca, NY. His works have appeared frequently in National Geographic and similar publications and in major natural history museums including the Smithsonian, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Field Museum. He lives in Trumansburg, NY.”
(Source: Yale University Press)
Today in 1974, Lucy (Australopithecus) was discovered. At the California Academy of Sciences, Professor Donald Johanson describes how his discovery ended up with the name “Lucy.” (Image via achievement.org)
"African Fossils seeks to increase public knowledge about prehistory by harnessing modern technology. Through digitizing otherwise inaccessible discoveries, African Fossils is dedicated to creating a growing repository of 3D models of significant fossils and artifacts, thus making them freely accessible to all. By allowing members to share their 3D printed creations, we hope to aid teachers, students and enthusiasts to exchange ideas and to be inspired to think about our tenuous place on the planet.
Most of the models have been captured using photometry and an SLR camera mounted on a tripod. The software used to convert the photos into 3D digital models are: Autodesk®123D™ Catch and Autodesk® ReCap™ Photo. In addition some models were captured with a FARO arm laser scanner or the LMI Technologies structured light scanner. The scanned collections include specimens housed in the National Museums of Kenya and the Turkana Basin Institute field stations. Some scans are taken from cast replicas rather than original specimens. The digital models on this site have been made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-Share Alike License. Please refer to the Disclaimer and Terms and Conditions for more information.”
Interesting article not so much on the Peking Man (one of the earliest Homo Erectus finds in the globe), but on how he’s viewed in China.
Out of Africa and Muliregional theories both agree we all came from the same place, but where to start counting us a human is up for debate. What’s more interesting, from a cultural perspective, is not where the evidence points, but what people do with that information. In the US, many people push against evolution on religious grounds, in China, the case against out of Africa has some deeper roots, according to the article.
Thanks to wparkerlin for sending this in! And if you have any suggestions, questions, or cool finds, please submit!
A harrowing expedition into the tiniest recesses of a cave system begins today in South Africa. The effort aims to recover recently discovered fossils of a yet-to-be-identified member of the human family.
Over the next several weeks, the expert team, directed by National Geographic…
UNIVERSITY PARK, PENNSYLVANIA—As many as three-fourths of the hand stencils found in caves in southern France and northern Spain were made by females, according to an analysis of the size of the handprints conducted by Dean Snow of Pennsylvania State University. “When scaled against modern hands, stencils from 32 caves in France and Spain tended to fall near the ends of that continuum, suggesting that sexual dimorphism (the difference between male and female) was more pronounced during the Upper Paleolithic,” he said. “It wasn’t just a bunch of guys out there chasing bison around,” Snow added.
*This is really cool, but does it take into account any discrepancies between contemporary average male/female hand sizes and the Upper Palaeolithic?
All you paleoanthropologists out there, Lee Berger has FOUND SOMETHING ELSE in Africa.
Archaeologists Don’t Dig Dinosaurs! (but some dig fossils!): My Attempt to Clarify the Distinction Between Archaeology and Palaeontology
Archaeologists endlessly lament a particularly frequent question asked by those excited by but ignorant of the science behind excavations: “Do you dig dinosaurs??!?" To this query the archaeologist inevitably sighs and between clenched teeth replies: "No.” But they often fail to mention that many do, in fact, dig fossils.
The problem is, particularly for people like me who study human evolution, archaeology and palaeontology overlap in practice if not in definition.
I saw this image, originally posted by Anthro Stories and decided to comment.
So here are some handy clarifications for you:
- Palaeontologists: scientists that study prehistoric life, which usually means fossils. This includes hominid fossils, dinosaur fossils, ichthyosaur fossils, ammonites, footprints, coprolites and a whole shed load of other really old stuff dating to geological epochs so old we can barely wrap our heads around the time scale. Even some palaeontologists don’t dig dinosaurs!
- Palaeoanthropologists: scientists that study hominid fossils (e.g., Homo ergaster, Australopithecus sediba, Ardipithecus ramidus and Orrorin tugenensis) and footprints too. Some of us study non-human primate fossils. Because we study fossils, we are technically palaeontologists. We just don’t dig dinosaurs.
- Bioanthropologists/Physical anthropologists: scientists that study the development of humans, most often through human bones, bones that often derive from archaeological contexts. Bioanthropologists also study human populations, disperals and origins through palaeogenetics. They analyse things like health (palaeopathology) and trauma. They look at bones to determine sex and age and to make inferences about behavioural ecology. Some are taphonomists, which are scientists that study the life history of the bones of dead things—both those that have been deposited in the earth and surface finds too. Palaeoanthropology is encompassed within bioanthropology as are forensic anthropology and bioarchaeology. The difference is that palaeoanthropologists work almost exclusively on specimens dating to the Pliocene-Pleistocene and for those studying non-human primates, Late Palaeocene-Eocene too (though some contend that Primates date back to the Cretaceous). Basically, we study human/primate evolution.
- Bioarchaeologists/Osteoarchaeologists: scientists that study osteological material (usually human but sometimes animal depending on your definition) from archaeological contexts. It is often defined in relation to the cultural-historical approach and involves a lot of what was referenced under bioanthropology.
- Zooarchaeologists: scientists that study animal bones (sometimes fossilised animal bones in which case we’re talking about palaeozoology) most often from archaeological contexts. That is to say, animal bones from contexts in which humans of any genus had some hand in the deposition of the animal remains. They also study animals that existed while hominids (including modern H. sapiens) were alive and use the knowledge they garner from the animal bones to make inferences about the co-existence of hominids and animals, ecological settings and much more.
- Archaeologists: scientists that study the material culture generated by humans. This includes members of, for example the genera Australopithecus, Paranthropus and Homo. They study the stone tools, the pottery, the shoes, the clothes, the knick-knacks and the doo-dads that humans have produced. We’re talking about the clay tablets, the middens, the jewellery and the built structures too. Most archaeologists confine their research to specific time periods and/or specific geographic locations. That is to say, Palaeoarchaeologists study Palaeolithic/Stone Age material culture and Classical archaeologists study Graeco-Roman material culture.
- Palaeogeneticists: scientists that study the genomes of (often extinct) taxa, like Neanderthals or even the H. sapiens genome in order to learn about human evolution (or some other animal’s evolution like kittens or horseshoe crabs).
There are other subfields and sub-disciplines of subfields. We have, for example:
- Palaeoneurologists: they study endocasts and crania to better understand brain evolution.
- Palaeobotanists: study phytoliths and plants in archaeological settings and in dental calculus.
- Geoarchaeologists: study site formation processes and source raw materials.
- Ethnoarchaeologists: study extant cultures in order to use what they learn to better understand extinct cultures.
- Chemists: analyse stable isotopes in fossil bone collagen and dental enamel to identify diet.
- Geologists: help determine potential site locations.
- Microvertebrate palaeontologists: focus on microfauna and examine arvicolid bones and avifauna at archaeological and hominid fossil-bearing sites to better understand the ancient ecological settings (palaeoecology).
- Palaeoclimatologists: examine diatoms in lake beds, identify Heinrich events and Marine Isotope Stages that affect migration and extinction events and analyse speleothems to clarify the local impact of past climate fluctuations.
A scientists in this day and age has to be a jack of all trades but still, it seems, must also confine her research to a subfield of a subfield of a niche of a subfield. Fortunately, those of us who are clever, can and will contact diverse specialists and invite them to add their two bits to our own research in order to produce a wider, more detailed picture of what we are studying within its context.
In practice, especially during fieldwork, but also during research, palaeontology and archaeology come together (with a host of other scientific fields), as well they should. My line of research involves fossil hominid bones but much of what I’ve done in the past has involved zooarchaeology, stable isotope analysis and even bathymetry studies. A palaeonthropologist might, for example, study metacarpal morphology and their metrics in order to better understand stone tool manufacture and use. We might examine and compare endocasts to make inferences about cognitive capacities and how encephalisation impacted technological and artistic innovation.
So no, archaeologists don’t dig dinosaurs, but they often dig fossils (even if they don’t study them).
And no palaeoanthropologists don’t dig dinosaurs or analyse stone tool assemblages but we do dig stone tools and we do dig fossils.
It is my contention that an interdisciplinary approach to ancient humans and their behaviours will draw us closer to a more accurate and more holistic understanding of human evolution and extinct cultures. The persistent confusion between archaeology and palaeontology can be a bugbear, for sure, but I understand why that confusion exists. The two disciplines are distinct in their definitions, but are not necessarily mutually exclusive in their actual practice, especially for those of us that study human evolution.
***No sources. These are just definitions.
(Image source: Anthropology Stories on tumblr)
- from Sathiyam TV
“A famous fossil that holds key to scientific evidence of human evolution returned home in Ethiopia Wednesday after a five-year tour activity abroad.
Discovered by an archaeological team led by U.S. scientist Donald C. Johanson in 1974, the fossil was then confirmed to have represented 40 percent of a skeleton of an individual Australopithecus afarensishave that has lived 3.2 million years ago. The well-known name of Lucy came from a Beatles song “Lucy in the sky with diamonds” as the song was then played to celebrate the fossil’s discovery.
“I think Lucy’s message to humanity is really that we all have a common origin. We have a common beginning and a common ancestor. We are united by our past,” said Professor Donald C. Johason, Lucy’s discoverer.
The fossil began its tour exhibition in 11 cities of the United States starting from July 2007, a move that aroused much disputes and worries as the transportation of the precious and fragile items could lead to unrecoverable damage. At the press conference Wednesday, the pieces of bones were kept in two closed black boxes, and once again stirred curiosity on its protection. Clarifying the doubts, Ethiopian scientist Zeresenay Alemseged, who has been in company with Lucy during its five-year trip abroad, said that Lucy has been kept very well.
“I am very aware that they sent security from Ethiopia, but that has been supported by local security from the United States, but also she was always surrounded by professionals. So I’m confident that she was secured both from the protection point of view and also the security point of view,” said Zeresenay Alemseged.
Meanwhile, another Ethiopian scientist said that the tour exhibition of Lucy has publicized the country’s name and promoted the development of Ethiopia.
“When we sent Lucy out for a long visit, we felt a sense of emptiness here. So it is a big sacrifice that we paid. Thank you very much for everything you have done, and we appreciate Donald C. Johanson again for finding her, promoting her. With the promotion of Lucy, he promoted Ethiopia,” said Dr. Berhane Asfaw, an Ethiopian scientist.
For concerns of protection, Lucy wasn’t immediately shown to the media and public upon its arrival home Wednesday. Starting from next Tuesday, the famous fossil will greet audience along with another 148 historical relics at the Ethiopian National Museum, and will be present at the 50th anniversary of the African Union.
“African heads of state would come here for the 50 golden Jubilee of the African Union. We would take that advantage to show that we are the origin of mankind that needs further study and research,” said Amin Abdulkadir, Ethiopian Minister of Culture and Tourism.”
Source: Sathiyam TV
Mike Pelletier “In 2011 I was invited to create a piece for an exhibition called “Ctrl-Z” curated by 3d artistEric Van Straaten. This was a group exhibition of artworks created by various 3d printing processes.
The model of the skull was generated from a friend’s dental tomography scan. The form of the object was created by creating an array of copies of the skull, where each successive copy of the skull is scaled, rotated, and moved. The skull starts at life size at the front and ends up rotated 180 degrees and two times larger than life at the back.”[via: myampgoesto11]
- by Peter Ungar and Matt Sponheimer
"Our adaptable diet, the ability to find nourishment in almost any habitat, is certainly part responsible for our success as a species, and stands in contrast to the diets of our nearest living relatives. The foods that we take into our body are arguably the most direct link we have to our environment, and so are key to understanding our place in nature, and our relationships with it. It is little wonder then that paleoanthropologists are interested in diet for what it can tell us about the paleoecology of our forebears, and the evolution of our biological tribe. In this paper we summarize briefly the major approaches that paleoanthropologists take to reconstructing the diets of early hominins. Such efforts can be divided into three broad categories:
- those involving the hominin fossils themselves;
- those based on evidence from deposits in which the hominins were recovered;
- those that use models derived from observations of living peoples and other species.
Here we briefly touch on the “state of science” for each of these, and point to some possible future directions. This is intended only to introduce the approaches we take to reconstructing the diets of fossil hominins, rather than an exposition of our knowledge of hominin diets themselves. The reader should see more comprehensive reviews, such as the individual papers in Ungar (2007a), for more methodological and interpretive detail” (read more/open access).
(Open access source: A Companion to Paleoanthropology, David R. Begun, (ed.), Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2013)