Tag Archives: neanderthals

Monkey Business: What Howler Monkeys Can Tell Us about the Role of Interbreeding in Human Evolution

ANN ARBOR — Did different species of early humans interbreed and produce offspring of mixed ancestry?

Recent genetic studies suggest that Neanderthals may have bred with anatomically modern humans tens of thousands of years ago in the Middle East, contributing to the modern human gene pool. But the findings are not universally accepted, and the fossil record has not helped to clarify the role of interbreeding, which is also known as hybridization.

Now a University of Michigan-led study of interbreeding between two species of modern-day howler monkeys in Mexico is shedding light on why it’s so difficult to confirm instances of hybridization among primates—including early humans—by relying on fossil remains. (more…)

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The Success of Homo sapiens May Be Due to Spatial Abilities

While the disappearance of Neanderthals remains a mystery, paleoanthropologists have an increasing understanding of what allowed their younger cousins, Homo sapiens, to conquer the planet. According to Ariane Burke, Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the Université de Montréal, the rapid dispersal of anatomically modern humans was not so much due to superior intelligence or improved hunting or gathering techniques, but rather to the creation of symbolic objects that allowed them to extend their social relations across vast territories.

Symbolism and social exchanges

Homo sapiens arrived in Europe some 45,000 years ago, from Africa. In less than 15,000 years, they managed to occupy the whole of Europe and Eurasia—an extremely rapid expansion. Neanderthals, on the other hand, were born of Europe, appearing on the continent more than 250,000 years ago, after their ancestors, Homo ergaster, had established there 600,000 years earlier. Though physiologically well adapted to the cold climate of the glacial and postglacial periods, why were Neanderthals not as successful as their newly landed rivals in colonizing the continent? (more…)

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Human Brain Evolution Tied to Partial Gene Copy That Blocks Original

A brain-development gene found exclusively in humans has an unusual evolutionary history and could contribute to what makes us distinctly human. Equally surprising, this is a partial gene created from an incomplete duplication of its “parent” gene in the prehistoric human genome.

Gene duplication is an important driving force in creating physical changes in living things during evolution, explained the researchers studying the SRGAP2 gene family. Drs. Megan Dennis and Xander Nuttle, in the Howard Hughes Medicine Institute research lab of Dr. Evan Eichler, University of Washington professor of genome sciences, co-authored the report on the findings. (more…)

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Ancient Humans Were Mixing it Up

*Anatomically modern humans interbred with more archaic hominin forms even before they migrated out of Africa, a UA-led team of researchers has found.*

It is now widely accepted that anatomically modern humans of the species Homo sapiens originated in Africa and eventually spread throughout the world. Ancient DNA recovered from fossil Neanderthal bones suggests they interbred with more archaic hominin forms once they had left their evolutionary cradle for the cooler climates of Eurasia, but whether they exchanged genetic material with other, now extinct archaic hominin varieties in Africa remained unclear.

In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, or PNAS, a team led by Michael Hammer, an associate professor and research scientist with the UA’s Arizona Research Labs, provides evidence that anatomically modern humans were not so unique that they remained separate. (more…)

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Neanderthals Were Nifty At Controlling Fire, According To CU-Boulder Researcher

A new study involving the University of Colorado Boulder shows clear evidence of the continuous control of fire by Neanderthals in Europe dating back roughly 400,000 years, yet another indication that they weren’t dimwitted brutes as often portrayed.

The conclusion comes from the study of scores of ancient archaeological research sites in Europe that show convincing evidence of long-term fire control by Neanderthals, said Paola Villa, a curator at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History. Villa co-authored a paper on the new study with Professor Wil Roebroeks of Leiden University in the Netherlands. (more…)

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Genome of Extinct Siberian Cave-dweller Linked to Modern-day Humans

*Sequencing of ancient DNA reveals new hominin population that is neither Neanderthal nor modern human*

Researchers have discovered evidence of a distinct group of “archaic” humans existing outside of Africa more than 30,000 years ago at a time when Neanderthals are thought to have dominated Europe and Asia. But genetic testing shows that members of this new group were not Neanderthals, and they interbred with the ancestors of some modern humans who are alive today.

The journal Nature reported the finding this week. The National Science Foundation’s Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences Division partially funded the research. (more…)

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Volcanic Eruptions Affect Rainfall over Asian Monsoon Region

Scientists have long known that large volcanic explosions can affect the weather by spewing particles that block solar energy and cool the air.

Some suspect that extended “volcanic winters” from gigantic eruptions helped kill off dinosaurs and Neanderthals.

In the summer following Indonesia’s 1815 Tambora eruption, frost wrecked crops as far away as New England, and the 1991 blowout of the Philippines’ Mount Pinatubo lowered average global temperatures by 0.7 degrees F — enough to mask the effects of greenhouse gases for a year or so. (more…)

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