The discovery of a 1.4-million-year-old hand-bone fossil reveals that the modern human ability to make and use complex tools may have originated far earlier than scientists previously thought, researchers say.
A critical trait that distinguishes modern humans from all other species alive today is the ability to make complex tools. It’s not just the extraordinarily powerful human brain, but also the human hand, that gives humans this unique ability. In contrast, apes — humans’ closest living relatives — lack a powerful and precise enough grip to create and use complex tools effectively.
A key anatomical feature of the modern human hand is the third metacarpal, a bone in the palm that connects the middle finger to the wrist. Read more.
An international team of researchers have announced the discovery of the oldest hominin (early or archaic human) fossil ever found in Western Europe, pushing back the clock on when early humans first colonized Western Europe after their exodus from Africa.
The find, a fossil tooth (molar) uncovered through excavations at the site of Barranco León in the Orce region of southeastern Spain, was dated to about 1.4 million years ago using several combined dating techniques, including Electron Spin Resonance (ESR) in combination with paleomagnetic and biochronological data.
"While the range of dates obtained from these various methods overlaps with those published for the Sima del Elefante hominin locality (1.2 Ma), the overwhelming majority of evidence points to an older age," reports study author Dr. Isidro-Moyano and colleagues. Read more.
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (CBS) — 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. Read more.
Researchers have been able to trace a line between some of the earliest modern humans to settle in China and people living in the region today.
The evidence comes from DNA extracted from a 40,000-year-old leg bone found in a cave near Beijing.
Results show that the person it belonged to was related to the ancestors of present-day Asians and Native Americans.
The results are published in the journal PNAS.
Humans who looked broadly like present-day people started to appear in the fossil record of Eurasia between 40,000 and 50,000 years ago.
But many questions remain about the genetic relationships between these early modern humans and present-day Homo sapiens populations. Read more.
A rare fossil of a rhinoceros that roamed what is now Turkey reveals the tale of a sudden violent death—by volcano, 9.2 million years ago.
The ancient rhino’s skull and jaw have a rough surface and brittle teeth. Paleontologist Pierre-Olivier Antoine of the University of Montpellier in France thinks that’s because volcanic rock fragments from the Cardak caldera pelted the rhino. A speeding river of ash and rock probably dismembered the animal and “baked” its skull at temperatures reaching 840ºF (450°C).
Just 2 percent of fossils are found in volcanic rock, because the heat usually incinerates organic matter. It’s even rarer to find a mammal fossil. Read more.
A seven million-year-old South American fossil from a species known as Arrhinolemur scalabrinii — which translates literally to “Scalabrini’s lemur without a nose” — has long been a curiosity because there is only one specimen in existence and it is unlike most other primates.
There is a reason for that, scientists have discovered. The lemur without a nose is actually a fish.
Classified as a mammal since it was first described in 1898, Arrhinolemur scalabrinii will at last take its rightful place among its piscatorial brethren following a detailed analysis by scientists from Argentina, Oregon State University and the Smithsonian Institution. Results of their analysis have just been published in the professional journal Neotropical Ichthyology. Read more.
A newfound squirrel-tailed specimen is the oldest known meat-eating dinosaur with feathers, according to a new study. The late-Jurassic discovery, study authors say, strikes down the image of dinosaurs as “overgrown lizards.”
Unearthed recently from a Bavarian limestone quarry, the “exquisitely preserved” 150-million-year-old fossil has been dubbed Sciurumimus albersdoerferi—”Scirius” being the scientific name for tree squirrels.
Sciurumimus was likely a young megalosaur, a group of large, two-legged meat-eating dinosaurs. The hatchling had a large skull, short hind limbs, and long, hairlike plumage on its midsection, back, and tail.
"I was overwhelmed when I first saw it. Even apart from the preservation of feathers, this is certainly one of the most beautiful dinosaur fossils ever found," Read more.
German scientists have just reported an extraordinary discovery: the first known pairs of mating vertebrate fossils.
And along with the thrill of a fossil first comes another possible breakthrough. The 47-million-year-old turtle remains offer clues to how a prehistoric lake became one of the world’s richest fossil troves.
"Just finding these couples is completely unique worldwide," lead study author Walter Joyce said. "There are no other vertebrate fossils to be found like this."
The turtle pairs were discovered in Messel Pit, a tropical lake turned Lagerstätten—paleontologist speak for a “really, really, really, spectacular place for fossils,” according to Columbia University’s Mark Norell. Read more.