Five for Friday: new discoveries clarify, tangle evolving human history
August 30, 2019 12:40 PM Subscribe
3.8 million-year-old hominin skull fills in “a major gap” in the fossil record | Humans may have reached Europe by 210,000 years ago; by 40,000 years later, Neanderthals had taken over the site | Neanderthals’ history is as complicated as ours; new study hints at Neanderthal population turnover in Siberia 90,000-120,000 years ago. | Stone tools suggest the first Americans came from Japan | Not vikings this time — New archaeological layer discovered at L’Anse aux Meadows || All articles by Kiona N. Smith for Ars Technica.
A bit more from each article, plus links to the research:
A bit more from each article, plus links to the research:
- The 3.8 million-year-old fossil reveals the face of Australopithecus anamensis.
A 3.8 million-year-old fossil skull is giving anthropologists their first look at an early Australopithecine, the hominin genus that eventually led to modern humans. The skull belongs to a member of a species called Australopithecus anamensis, which many anthropologists have considered the ancestor of the fossil hominin Lucy and the rest of her species, Australopithecus afarensis. But the find suggests that, as with most of these things, the story may be more complicated. (A 3.8-million-year-old hominin cranium from Woranso-Mille, Ethiopia [access limited, abstract only]; Yohannes Haile-Selassie, Stephanie M. Melillo, Antonino Vazzana, Stefano Benazzi & Timothy M. Ryan; Nature, published 28 August 2019)
- Re-evaluation of fossilized bones in Apidima Cave in southern Greece could revise timeline for human expansion into Eurasia.
A few fossilized bones from the back of a skull may prove that our species spread into Eurasia much earlier than previously suspected. A new study of the partial skull, which was excavated from Apidima Cave in southern Greece 40 years ago, suggests that the fossil is Homo sapiens and that it’s roughly 210,000 years old. That makes it the oldest member of our species ever found outside of Africa. The fossil, known as Apidima 1, is likely the remains of a member of an early wave of humans who spread into Eurasia. Based on genetic studies and the fossil record, anthropologists think these early pioneers failed to gain a successful foothold and ended up being replaced by Neanderthals (for a while, at least). (Apidima Cave fossils provide earliest evidence of Homo sapiens in Eurasia [access limited, abstract only]; Katerina Harvati, Carolin Röding, Abel M. Bosman, Fotios A. Karakostis, Rainer Grün, Chris Stringer, Panagiotis Karkanas, Nicholas C. Thompson, Vassilis Koutoulidis, Lia A. Moulopoulos, Vassilis G. Gorgoulis & Mirsini Kouloukoussa; Nature volume 571, pages500–504 (2019) published 10 July 2019)
- New study hints at Neanderthal population turnover in Siberia 90,000-120,000 years ago.
DNA preserved in ancient bones and teeth has recently helped scientists reconstruct how groups of ancient humans migrated and mingled, and a new study now does the same thing for Neanderthals. Neanderthals lived in Eurasia for around 400,000 years, and it would be a huge stretch to assume they spent all that time as one big homogeneous population or that different groups of Neanderthals never migrated and mixed. Thanks to ancient DNA, we can now begin to see how Neanderthal groups moved around Eurasia long before Homo sapiens entered the mix. (Nuclear DNA from two early Neandertals reveals 80,000 years of genetic continuity in Europe [open access]; Stéphane Peyrégne, Viviane Slon, Fabrizio Mafessoni, Cesare de Filippo, Mateja Hajdinjak, Sarah Nagel, Birgit Nickel, Elena Essel, Adeline Le Cabec, Kurt Wehrberger, Nicholas J. Conard, Claus Joachim Kind, Cosimo Posth, Johannes Krause, Grégory Abrams, Dominique Bonjean, Kévin Di Modica, Michel Toussaint, Janet Kelso, Matthias Meyer, Svante Pääbo and Kay Prüfer; Science Advances, Evolutionary Biology 26 Jun 2019: Vol. 5, no. 6)
- Stone tools at the Cooper's Ferry site resemble tools from Ice Age sites in Japan.
Evidence from the Cooper's Ferry archaeological site in Western Idaho shows that people lived in the Columbia River Basin around 16,000 years ago. That's well before a corridor between ice sheets opened up, clearing an inland route south from the Bering land bridge. That suggests that people migrated south along the Pacific coast. Stone tools from the site suggest a possible connection between these first Americans and Northeast Asian hunter-gatherers from the same period. (Late Upper Paleolithic occupation at Cooper’s Ferry, Idaho, USA, ~16,000 years ago [access limited, abstract only]; Loren G. Davis, David B. Madsen, Lorena Becerra-Valdivia, Thomas Higham, David A. Sisson, Sarah M. Skinner, Daniel Stueber, Alexander J. Nyers, Amanda Keen-Zebert, Christina Neudorf, Melissa Cheyney, Masami Izuho, Fumie Iizuka, Samuel R. Burns, Clinton W. Epps, Samuel C. Willis, Ian Buvit; Science 30 Aug 2019: Vol. 365, Issue 6456, pp. 891-897)
- The story of the only undisputed Norse site in the Americas just got more complicated.
L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland is famed for being a site where Norse travelers set up a colony hundreds of years before Europe at large became aware of North America's existence. The colony was thought to be short-lived, but a new find may extend the length of its occupancy. While taking sediment cores from a nearby peat bog to help study the ancient environment, archaeologist Paul Ledger and his colleagues discovered a previously unknown chapter in the story of L’Anse aux Meadows. Buried about 35cm (14 inches) beneath the modern surface, they found signs of an ancient occupancy: a layer of trampled mud littered with woodworking debris, charcoal, and the remains of plants and insects. Based on its depth and the insect species present, the layer looks like similar surfaces from the edges of Viking Age Norse settlements in Greenland and Iceland. But organic material from the layer radiocarbon dated to the late 1100s or early 1200s, long after the Norse were thought to have left Newfoundland for good. Artifacts like a bronze cloak pin, a soapstone spindle piece, iron nails, and rivets make it clear who lived in the eight Icelandic-style turf shelters at L’Anse aux Meadows. Stone tools at the site suggest that indigenous North Americans, probably ancestors of the Beothuk and Dorset people, also lived or visited here. L’Anse aux Meadows may be the first place where Europeans and indigenous Americans interacted, and those interactions may have happened off and on for as long as 195 years. (New horizons at L’Anse aux Meadows [open access]; Paul M. Ledger, Linus Girdland-Flink, and Véronique Forbes; PNAS July 30, 2019 116 (31) 15341-15343; first published July 15, 2019)
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