The climate of South Africa was once much wetter than it is today, and those lush times may have spurred human populations through especially innovative periods, new research shows.
Evidence from these ancient periods suggests humans produced new tools, and used symbolism in wall engravings. The findings suggest a tight link between abrupt climate changes and the emergence of modern human traits, researchers say.
“We provide for the first time really good evidence that the occurrence and disappearance of these first finds of human innovation are linked to climate change,” said study author Martin Ziegler, an earth science researcher at Cardiff University in Wales. Read more.
A study of two ancient hominins from South Africa suggests that changes in the shape and size of the middle ear occurred early in our evolution. Such alterations could have profoundly changed what our ancestors could hear — and perhaps how they could communicate.
Palaeoanthropologist Rolf Quam of Binghamton University in New York state and his colleagues recovered and analysed a complete set of the three tiny middle-ear bones, or ossicles, from a 1.8-million-year-old specimen of Paranthropus robustus and an incomplete set of ossicles from Australopithecus africanus, which lived from about 3.3 million to around 2.1 million years ago. The ossicles are the smallest bones in the human body, and are rarely preserved intact in hominin fossils, Quam says.
In both specimens, the team found that the malleus (the first in the chain of the three middle-ear bones) was human-like — smaller in proportion compared to the ones in our ape relatives. Its size would also imply a smaller eardrum. Read more.
The most complete investigation of the anatomy of what may be the immediate ancestor of the human lineage is now shedding light on secrets about how it might have behaved, researchers say.
For instance, the human ancestors may have moved in an entirely new way, with a somewhat pigeon-toed gait with a twisty trunk, the researchers added.
The first specimens of the extinct species Australopithecus sediba were accidentally discovered by the 9-year-old son of a scientist in 2008, in an area in South Africa named the Cradle of Humankind, one of the richest fossil sites in Africa. Australopithecus means “southern ape,” while sediba means “fountain” in Sotho, one of the 11 official languages of South Africa, due to how scientists hint the human lineage might spring from this species. Read more.
The synthesis of years of research at prehistoric sites in southern Africa, as represented by research recently published in the Journal of World Prehistory, has led a number of scientists to suggest that South Africa was the primary center for the early development of modern human behavior. This would be cognitive behavior, as manifested in technology much like the material culture of modern hunter-gatherer groups throughout the world today.
The new research paper by renowned Wits University archaeologist, Prof. Christopher Henshilwood, is the first detailed summary of Middle Stone Age technologies and cultural remains discovered at a number of sites in southern Africa, artifacts that fall within two established overall ”techno-tradition” periods: Still Bay (dated to c. 75,000 – 70,000 years ago) and Howiesons Poort (c. 65,000 – 60,000 years ago). Read more.
Paleomagnetism – is that how ancient humans attracted the opposite sex?
No, but it is an important technique that allowed Texas State University professor Britt Bousman, in collaboration with Andy Herries of Australia’s La Trobe University, to date a South African excavation site near Johannesburg.
Bousman and an archeology team led by James Brink, head of the Florisbad Quaternary Research Department at the National Museum in Bloemfontein, South Africa, recently uncovered a bone bed. In it they found a human molar and stone tools dating to about one million years ago.
This finding brought scientists a step closer to understanding human evolution. Read more.
The late Stone Age may have had an earlier start in Africa than previously thought — by some 20,000 years.
A new analysis of artifacts from a cave in South Africa reveals that the residents were carving bone tools, using pigments, making beads and even using poison 44,000 years ago. These sorts of artifacts had previously been linked to the San culture, which was thought to have emerged around 20,000 years ago.
“Our research proves that the Later Stone Age emerged in South Africa far earlier than has been believed and occurred at about the same time as the arrival of modern humans in Europe,” study researcher Paola Villa, a curator at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History, said in a statement.
The Later Stone Age in Africa occurred at the same time as Europe’s Upper Paleolithic Period, when modern humans moved into Europe from Africa and met the Neanderthals about 45,000 years ago. 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.
The immediate ancestor of the human lineage may have lived off a woodland diet of leaves, fruits and bark instead of a menu based on the open savanna as other extinct relatives of humanity did, researchers say.
Food was a major environmental force that shaped the human lineage – perhaps influencing key moments such as when humans’ ancestors started walking upright – and these new findings help reveal the complex evolutionary paths these ancestors took in response to the world around them, the scientists add.
The findings are based on fossils of the extinct hominin Australopithecus sediba that were accidentally discovered in 2008 by the 9-year-old son of a scientist in the remains of a cave in South Africa. The fossils were 2 million years old. Read more.