A Bone Here, a Bead There: On the Trail of Human Origins
By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD - NEW YORK TIMES
Added: Wed, 18 Jul 2012 02:21:13 UTC
Thanks to Quine for the link
Who are we, and where did we come from? Scientists studying the origin of modern humans, Homo sapiens, keep reaching deeper in time to answer those questions — toward the last common ancestor of great apes and humans, then forward to the emergence of people more and more like us in body and behavior.
Their research is advancing on three fronts. Fossils of skulls and bones expose anatomical changes. Genetics reveals the timing and place of the Eve of modern humans.
And archaeology turns up ancient artifacts reflecting abstract and creative thought, and a growing self-awareness. Just last month, researchers made the startling announcement that Stone Age paintings in Spanish caves were much older than previously thought, from a time when Neanderthals were still alive.
To help make sense of this cascade of new information, a leading authority on modern human evolution — the British paleoanthropologist Chris Stringer — recently sat for an interview in New York that ranged across many recent developments: the evidence of interbreeding between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens; the puzzling extinct species of little people nicknamed the hobbits; and the implications of a girl’s 40,000-year-old pinkie finger found in a Siberian cave.
Dr. Stringer, an animated man of 64, is an anthropologist at the Natural History Museum in London and a fellow of the Royal Society. But he belies the image of a don: He showed up for our interview wearing a T-shirt and jeans, looking as if he had just come in from the field.
A condensed and edited version of our conversation follows. In it and in a new book, he describes a new wrinkle to the hypothesis of a recent African origin of modern Homo sapiens. His ideas may light up more debate in a contentious science.
Thomas H. Maugh II - LA Times Comments
Modern culture emerged in southern Africa at least 44,000 years ago, more than 20,000 years earlier than anthropologists had previously believed
Michael Balter - Wired Science Comments
New studies on volcanic glass show that a volcanic eruption once thought to be blamed for the demise of Neanderthals occurred after they were already gone.
- - ScienceDaily Comments
This is the tooth of a hominid embedded in a rock containing significant parts of a skeleton of an early human ancestor. The skeleton is believed to be the remains of "Karabo", the type skeleton of Australopithecus sediba, discovered at the Malapa Site in the Cradle of Humankind in 2009. (Credit: University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg)
Ryan Shaffer - The Humanist Comments
Interview with Richard Leakey, a world-renowned paleoanthropologist whose career has been marked by famous scientific finds, political office, and conservation efforts.
Meghan Rosen - Science News Comments
A newly discovered, nearly complete fossilized skeleton hints that all dinosaurs may have sported feathers.
Ker Than - National Geographic News Comments
Bits of food stuck in the two-million-year-old teeth of a human ancestor suggest some of our forebears ate tree bark, a new study says.
MORE BY JOHN NOBLE WILFORD
John Noble Wilford - The Boston Globe Comments
Stone Age artists were painting red disks, handprints, clublike symbols, and geometric patterns on European cave walls long before previously thought, in some cases more than 40,000 years ago.