Squeezing through a gap called the International Postbox and climbing the jagged Dragon’s Back were not in Alia Gurtov’s plans for the fall semester, but she made an exception in order to participate in a wildly successful archaeological expedition into a South African cave.
Over the last three weeks, Gurtov, a UW-Madison graduate student, and five other spelunking scientists have hauled hundreds of fossilized bones—likely the remains of several distant relatives of humans—through a rock crevice barely 18 centimeters wide.
"Every time I stop to think about what I’m involved in, I am almost overwhelmed by my incredibly great fortune," she said via email during a break. "Luckily, there are so many details to attend to in my daily life that I can maintain a reasonable level of excitement." Read more.
A major new fossil site has been discovered by UNSW scientists beyond the boundaries of the famous Riversleigh World Heritage area in north-western Queensland.
Dubbed “New Riversleigh”, initial indications are that it represents a different time period and poorly-known stage in the evolution of Australia’s unique biota. The prehistoric bone-bed contains the remains of a wide range of previously unknown marsupials and bats.
It was found about 15 kilometres south-west of the western limit of the Riversleigh World Heritage site, which is about 250 km north-west of Mount Isa, and which Sir David Attenborough has already described as one of the four most important fossil sites in the world. Read more.
With just two inhabited buildings and a population of five, Fossil, Wyo., is all but a ghost town today. But as far as ghosts go, the ones at Fossil are pretty remarkable — 50-million-year-old monitor lizards, stingrays and freakishly long-tailed turtles among them.
Fossil showed promise of becoming a train-stop city during America’s westward expansion. The town’s real golden age, however, may have been the early Eocene, when it was covered in a subtropical lake with an incredible diversity of aquatic life, surrounded by lush mountains and active volcanoes.
Over thousands of years, dead animals rained down into the muck deep below the surface of long-gone Fossil Lake. Their bones mixed with a limey ooze, created by calcium carbonate deposits carried to the lake bottom by rivers flowing in from nearby mountains. Read more.
A trove of Neanderthal fossils including bones of children and adults, discovered in a cave in Greece hints the area may have been a key crossroad for ancient humans, researchers say.
The timing of the fossils suggests Neanderthals and humans may have at least had the opportunity to interact, or cross paths, there, the researchers added.
Neanderthals are the closest extinct relatives of modern humans, apparently even occasionally interbreeding with our ancestors. Neanderthals entered Europe before modern humans did, and may have lasted there until about 35,000 years ago, although recent findings have called this date into question. Read more.
In “Jurassic Park,” scientists extract 80-million-year-old dino DNA from the bellies of mosquitoes trapped in amber. Researchers may never be able to extract genetic material that old and bring a T. rex back to life, but a new study suggests DNA can survive in fossils longer than previously believed.
The oldest DNA samples ever recovered are from insects and plants in ice cores in Greenland up to 800,000 years old. But researchers had not been able to determine the oldest possible DNA they could get from the fossil record because DNA’s rate of decay had remained a mystery.
Now scientists in Australia report they’ve been able to estimate this rate based on a comparison of DNA from 158 fossilized leg bones from three species of the moa, an extinct group of flightless birds that once lived in New Zealand. The bones date between 600 and 8,000 years old and importantly all come from the same region. Read more.
New fossils recast a flat-faced oddity as a star species in the first chapter of the human story—perhaps even as our oldest known truly human ancestor.
At the least, the fossils confirm that at least three different human species inhabited the same Kenyan neighborhood at the dawn of humanity, according to a new study led by paleontologists Meave and Louise Leakey.
The new fossils—prize finds of a painstaking 40-year search—flesh out a human species previously dubbed Homo rudolfensis but which has, for now, had its name revoked.
Consisting of a face from a young adult, a complete lower jaw, and part of a second jaw, the new fossils were found east of Kenya’s Lake Turkana between 2007 and 2009.
Dated to between 1.78 and 1.95 million years ago, the remains were all uncovered within six miles (ten kilometers) of a mysterious Homo skull discovered by the Leakeys and their Koobi Fora Research Project team in 1972. Read more.
Last month a prehistoric tooth protruding from a boulder tipped off researchers to hidden evolutionary treasure: remarkably complete human-ancestor fossils trapped in a rock that had been sitting in their lab for years.
Scans later showed that the rock contains two-million-year-old fossils that will “almost certainly” make one Australopithecus sediba specimen “the most complete early human ancestor skeleton ever discovered,” anthropologist Lee Berger said in a statement Thursday.
The bones are nearly invisible from the outside, and were discovered only after a technician noticed the small tooth in the three-foot-wide (meter-wide) rock, which was retrieved from a South African cave in 2008 and brought to a lab at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.
The tooth turned out to be just the tip of the fossil iceberg. Read more.
(Phys.org) — The world’s largest known sample of fossil humans has been classified as the species Homo heidelbergensis but in fact are early Neanderthals, according to a study by Prof Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum.
This puts the species Homo heidelbergensis back at the heart of human evolution as the last common ancestor that we, Homo sapiens, shared with Neanderthals, Homo neanderthalensis, says Stringer, the Museum’s Research Leader in Human Origins.
The Status of Homo heidelbergensis study, which was published in the journalEvolutionary Anthropology this week, reviews the fossil and DNA evidence for the existence of heidelbergensis and its place in the human family tree.
Central to the discussion is the important site of La Sima de los Huesos (meaning ‘Pit of the bones’), in Atapuerca, northern Spain. It has yielded more than 6,000 fossils from about 28 individuals. Read more.