Tag: Human Origins

Scientist Smackdown: When Did Europeans First Harness Fire?

By Patrick Morgan | March 15, 2011 5:21 pm

What happens when evolutionary biology disagrees with archeology? If you’re thinking “scientific headache,” you’re right. New research suggests that Europeans first regularly used fire no earlier than 400,000 years ago—an assertion that, if true, leaves evolutionary anthropologists in a lurch because this date isn’t linked to the substantial physiological changes we’d expect with the advent of cooked food.

The Controversy

The majority of archeologists think that early humans’ control of fire is tied to their migration out of Africa. After all, how else would the first Europeans cope with the freezing winters?

Based on archeological evidence, we know that early humans first arrived in southern Europe over a million years ago, and—based on the Happisburgh site —reached England around 800,000 years ago. So the problem with the new 400,000 year-old date is that it means that hominids suffered through hundreds of thousands of years of cold winter unaided by fire. And according to evolutionary biologists, this new date clashes with the idea that cooked food aided the evolutionary enlargement of the human brain.

The 400,000-Year-Old Evidence

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Human Origins

Daily Roundup: Ice Melt Wins, Backs Get a Break, Discover(y) Returns

By Patrick Morgan | March 9, 2011 5:51 pm

  • Unwelcome melt: The results are in for a 20-year study of Antarctica and Greenland ice melt, and though you shouldn’t grab your swim trunks yet, the results show that ice sheets have been melting at an accelerated pace for the past 20 years. “What is surprising,” Eric Rignot from Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, told the BBC, is that ice melt will soon be the single biggest driver of sea level rise.
  • But don’t take these dripping glaciers as a reason to sit on your hands: A new report says that climatologists aren’t factoring in soot in the climate debate—and that merely reducing the output from cooking fires and industry could cut global warming by 0.5C. Food for thought (oy) the next time you barbecue.
  • Lessons from a tree: Engineers have crafted a self-repairing plastic based on the natural self-repairing traits of rubber trees—a discovery that could save energy (and the planet) by extending the lifespan of many consumer products.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: News Roundup

News Roundup: Where We're From, Apple for Life, Elephants & Teamwork

By Patrick Morgan | March 8, 2011 6:51 pm

  • Out of Africa: Touted as a “landmark study,” new genetic research suggests that the first humans came from southern Africa. In the study, they found more genetic diversity in the southern part of the dark continent—an indicator of longevity. Experts had previously pinned eastern Africa as the starting line for the human race.
  • An apple a day keeps the fruit fly alive: Researchers discovered that fruit fly lifespans increase by about 10 percent when they’re fed a daily bit of apple. And the benefits don’t stop there: The apple’s healthful antioxidants also helped the flies’ walking and climbing abilities. Scientists note that because this research agrees with past apple studies on other animals, it should encourage more apple eating by humans too.
  • Want to know your risk of lung cancer? Look down. The nicotine levels in your toenail clippings give an accurate idea of future lung cancer risk, according to new research: The men with the highest nicotine levels (mostly smokers, but also some second-hand smokers) were more than three times as likely to develop lung cancer as those with the lowest levels.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Journal Roundup

Found: Human Skulls Used As Drinking Goblets 15,000 Years Ago

By Andrew Moseman | February 17, 2011 9:55 am

From Ed Yong:

Stock fantasy villains might like to drink from the skulls of their enemies, but the practice has its roots in historical reality. For thousands of years, humans have turned each others’ skulls into containers and drinking cups. Now, Silvia Bello from London’s Natural History Museum has found the oldest skull-cups ever recorded in a cave in Somerset, England.

These include three skull-cups that Bello recovered in excellent condition. Two belonged to adults and one to a 3-year-old child. All of them were made by the Magdelanian culture, a group of prehistoric people who lived in Western Europe. No one knows how they used the grisly cups, but it’s clear that they manufactured them with great control. They all bear a large series of dents and cut-marks that were precisely inflicted.

For plenty more on this gruesome find—including a step-by-step guide to crafting a skull cup of your own, if you’re so inclined—check out the rest of Ed Yong’s post at Not Exactly Rocket Science.

Related Content:
DISCOVER: The Dawn of Civilization: Writing, Urban Life, And Warfare
DISCOVER: Respect Your Elders, Human
80beats: Andean People Discovered Mercury Mining—and Mercury Pollution—in 1400 B.C.

Image: PLoS One

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Human Origins
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