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.
In the 1930s archaeologists working at the site of Zhoukoudian near Beijing recovered an incredible trove of partial skulls and other bones representing some 40 individuals that would eventually be assigned to the early human species Homo erectus. The bones, which recent estimates put at around 770,000 years old, constitute the largest collection of H. erectus fossils ever found. They were China’s paleoanthropological pride and joy. And then they vanished.
According to historical accounts, in 1941 the most important fossils in the collection were packed in large wooden footlockers or crates to be turned over to the U.S. military for transport to the American Museum of Natural History in New York for safekeeping during World War II. But the fossils never made it to the U.S. Today, all scientists have are copies of the bones. The disappearance of the originals stands as one of the biggest mysteries in paleoanthropology. Read more.
VERO BEACH — City officials Tuesday could give permission to a group seeking to excavate for fossils in an area near the municipal airport.
Under the city’s historic preservation ordinance, the Old Vero Ice Age Sites Committee must get the OK from any landholders including the city, Indian River County, Indian River Farms Water Control District, the Florida East Coast Railroad and the Federal Aviation Administration before any excavation can begin, Planning and Development DirectorTim McGarry said.
The property is between Aviation Boulevard and U.S. 1, and includes a 300-foot right of way along the main canal.
"The first step is to designate the historic area of interest," said McGarry. "Although some of the land belongs to the airport and the county, we are the permitting arm because it’s in our district." Read more.
LONDON (AP) — British scientists have found scores of fossils the great evolutionary theorist Charles Darwin and his peers collected but that had been lost for more than 150 years.
Dr. Howard Falcon-Lang, a paleontologist at Royal Holloway, University of London, said Tuesday that he stumbled upon the glass slides containing the fossils in an old wooden cabinet that had been shoved in a “gloomy corner” of the massive, drafty British Geological Survey.
Using a flashlight to peer into the drawers and hold up a slide,Falcon-Lang saw one of the first specimens he had picked up was labeled ‘C. Darwin Esq.”
"It took me a while just to convince myself that it was Darwin’s signature on the slide," the paleontologist said, adding he soon realized it was a "quite important and overlooked" specimen. Read more.
ScienceDaily (Sep. 8, 2011) — Skeletal remains found in a South African cave may yield new clues to human development and answer key questions of the evolution of the human lineage, according to a series of papers released in the journal Science co-written by a Texas A&M University anthropology professor.
Researcher Darryl de Ruiter is part of an international team that examined the discovery in a cave about 30 miles northwest of Johannesburg and originally found in 2008. This same team named the new species, Australopithecus sediba, in April 2010. The team, composed of members from U.S., African, European and Australian universities, found multiple individuals of Australopithecus sediba that show both human-like and ape-like characteristics intermediate between Australopithecus and present-day humans.
"The key message is that these remains appear to be a transitional form of Australopithecus, intermediate between earlier australopiths and later Homo, the genus to which present-day humans belong," de Ruiter explains. Read more.