Were Modern Humans in Indonesia 73,000 Years Ago?

By Gemma Tarlach | August 9, 2017 12:00 pm
The entrance to Lida Ajer, a cave in the Sumatran highlands that appears to contain evidence of modern humans at the site up to 73,000 years ago. (Credit Julien Louys)

The entrance to Lida Ajer, a cave in the Sumatran highlands of Indonesia. Researchers say teeth found at the cave belong to anatomically modern humans and are up to 73,000 years ago. (Credit Julien Louys)

The conventional timeline of human evolution and migration continues to crumble in the face of new research. The latest finding puts anatomically modern humans deep in Indonesia up to 73,000 years ago — tens of thousands of years before once thought possible.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

First Look At The First Flower, Ancestral To All Others

By Gemma Tarlach | August 1, 2017 10:00 am
The first flower, revealed today by researchers in Nature Communications, is more than 140 million years old. (Credit Hervé Sauquet and Jürg Schönenberger)

The first flower, revealed today by researchers in Nature Communications, is more than 140 million years old. (Credit Hervé Sauquet and Jürg Schönenberger)

About 90 percent of all terrestrial plants today are angiosperms, or flowering plants. Yet finding the flower ancestral to them all has been a, ahem, fruitless search. Until now.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: biology, paleobotany

Study Uncovers the Universal Language of Arousal

By Gemma Tarlach | July 25, 2017 6:00 pm
Does this American alligator seem relaxed or riled up to you? A new study suggests humans can tell. (Credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service)

Does this American alligator seem relaxed or riled up to you? A new study suggests humans can tell, by soundbite alone, an animal’s state of emotional arousal across all terrestrial vertebrate species. (Credit US Fish & Wildlife Service)

Chilled out or worked up? Most of us can pick up pretty quickly on another human’s state of emotional arousal. But Charles Darwin hypothesized that understanding emotional expression across species went way, way back, all the way to the earliest terrestrial vertebrates (that’s 350 million years, give or take), and that it was crucial for survival.

After all, it’s kinda helpful to know if those monkeys in the trees are just yammering on about nothing or freaking out about the lion they see sneaking up on you.

Today, in an intriguing study, researchers have the first evidence that Darwin was right. The new study hints that all terrestrial vertebrates — you, this alligator, every dead dinosaur, birds and yeah, those monkeys in the trees and the sneaky lion, too — evolved a universal signaling system, a form of communication that we still retain, and might even put to good use.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: human evolution

The First Australians Arrived 65,000 Years Ago

By Gemma Tarlach | July 19, 2017 12:00 pm
Our species evolved to be great distance walkers, with big brains and plenty of curiosity. Is it any wonder we were made to wander?

Newly discovered archaeological evidence suggests the first Australians arrived at least 65,000 years ago, which challenges the increasingly shaky conventional timeline for human evolution and migration.

New archaeological evidence supports an idea previously suggested by genetic studies: The first humans arrived in Australia at least 65,000 years ago. This earlier arrival date means humans were present Down Under before its widespread megafauna extinction, an event in which human activity has been debated.

The discovery is also at odds with the conventional date for our species leaving Africa, and adds fuel to the growing bonfire of what was the evolutionary timeline for Homo sapiens.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

Dog Domestication: Is A New Study Barking Up The Wrong Tree?

By Gemma Tarlach | July 18, 2017 10:00 am
I like to believe she's thinking "Dog domestication goes back 40,000 years to a single event?" — per a new Nature Communications study, but I know she's just wondering when she's getting another piece of cheese. (Credit William Zuback/Discover)

I like to believe she’s thinking “What?! Dog domestication might go back 40,000 years to a single event?” — per a new Nature Communications study — but I know she’s just wondering how long she has to sit still looking Mordorable before she gets another piece of cheese. (Credit William Zuback/Discover)

Dogs are our first friends — they’re the only animal domesticated while we were still a bunch of motley hunter-gatherers. But pinpointing the where and the when of dog domestication has been difficult. With recent advances in ancient DNA (aDNA) extraction and sequencing, it’s only natural that researchers would be rushing to answer those questions. A 2016 study offered a striking new theory about dog domestication, and today a different team offers another, which they say is a direct challenge to last year’s landmark paper.

Do the papers really disagree or is the latest study all bark and no bite? Chew on this:
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: aDNA

Chronotypes: Evolution Explains Night Owls and Early Birds

By Gemma Tarlach | July 11, 2017 6:00 pm
A new study of chronotypes, or sleeping patterns, among the Hadza of Tanzania, sheds light on the evolutionary advantages of staggered snoozing. (Credit Wikimedia Commons/Andreas Lederer)

Two Hadza hunters returning from a hunt. A new study of chronotypes, or sleep and activity patterns, among the Tanzanian hunter-gatherers sheds light on the evolutionary advantages of staggered snoozing. (Credit Wikimedia Commons/Andreas Lederer)

In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight… catchy song, even if it misrepresents Panthera leo.

Lions, like many other predators, are opportunistic about when they hunt, and that includes plenty of nocturnal prowling. New research suggests variation in chronotypes, or sleep and wakefulness patterns, gave our ancestors an evolutionary advantage by helping them survive the dangerous hours of darkness. Remember that the next time you’re wide-eyed at 2 a.m. watching Law & Order reruns.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: human evolution, sleep

Jurassic Megapredator Was Armed With T. rex Teeth

By Gemma Tarlach | July 4, 2017 6:00 am
Meet the newest megapredator of the fossil record: my, Razana, what big teeth you have. (Credit Fabio Manucci)

Meet megapredator Razanandrongobe sakalavae of Madagascar’s Jurassic. My, Razana, what big teeth you have. (Credit Fabio Manucci)

Out of Madagascar comes a megapredator the stuff of nightmares: a massive croc-like carnivore that walked erect and had a mouthful of steak knife teeth more like those of T. rex than modern crocodiles. While this might sound like some crazy hybrid creature dreamed up for the next Jurassic Park sequel, this animal was real, and finding new pieces of it sheds light on a mysterious “ghost lineage.”
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: Jurassic

Carved Skulls Flesh Out Neolithic Cult Evidence

By Gemma Tarlach | June 28, 2017 1:00 pm
A pillar from one of the buildings excavated at the Turkish Neolithic site of Göbekli Tepe, where newly-discovered carved skulls point to unique ritual treatment of the dead. (Credit German Archaeological Institute (DAI))

Birds and scorpions — and an apparently headless human (lower right) — adorn a pillar from one of the buildings excavated at the Neolithic site of Göbekli Tepe, where newly-discovered carved skulls point to unique ritual treatment of the dead. (Credit German Archaeological Institute (DAI))

Fragments of uniquely carved skulls — at least one of which may have also been decorated — have turned up at one of Turkey’s most important Neolithic sites. Investigation into how the skulls were modified, and what they might have been used for, points to a skull cult that’s the first of its kind in the world.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: archaeology, death

Ancient DNA Unravels Cat Domestication Like Ball of Yarn

By Gemma Tarlach | June 19, 2017 10:00 am
A new study fills in gaps in the when and where of cat domestication, explaining how the animals went from lean and vermin-chasing hunters to, uh, this. (Credit G. Tarlach)

A new study fills gaps in the when and where of cat domestication, explaining how the animals went from lean hunters to, uh, this. (Credit G. Tarlach…yes, it’s my cat, but don’t kvetch about his obesity. I took the photo shortly after I adopted him. Thanks to careful management he is now several pounds lighter.)

The truth about cats and dogs is this: despite being the two species that humans are most likely to have as pets, Rex and Ruffles had very different paths from the wild to our couches. Analyzing ancient and modern cat DNA, researchers believe they have figured out much of the mystery surrounding cat domestication — and no, it didn’t start in ancient Egypt.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

Meet The New Oldest Homo Sapiens — Our Species Evolved Much Earlier Than Thought

By Gemma Tarlach | June 7, 2017 12:00 pm
The earliest member of Homo sapiens was this guy. The composite image, based on micro-CT scans of fossils from a site in Morocco, shows that the modern human face had already evolved by 300,000 years ago. (Credit PhilippGunz, MPI EVA Leipzig)

One of the earliest known members of Homo sapiens was this guy. The composite image, based on micro-CT scans of fossils from a site in Morocco, shows that the modern human face had already evolved by 300,000 years ago, smashing conventional thinking about our evolutionary timeframe. (Credit PhilippGunz, MPI EVA Leipzig)

For decades, based on both the fossil record and, more recently, paleogenomic modeling, researchers have generally put the start date for Homo sapiens around 200,000 years ago. A trove of fossil and artefact finds from Morocco, however, pushes the age of our species back — way back. The new findings have implications far beyond how many candles to put on our collective birthday cake.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
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