Courtesy Mark RyanThe bone of a single pinky finger found in a cave in southern Siberia may indicate a new branch in the human family tree. The find could show that besides Neanderthals and Homo sapiens, a third lineage of humans may have shared the ancient landscape of prehistoric Russia.
The piece of finger was found in Denisova cave located in Russia’s Altai mountains by scientists from the Russian Academy of Science. The bone was recovered from sediment layers that have also yielded signs of Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) and modern humans (Homo sapiens). Radiocarbon dating set the age of the layers between 48,000 and 30,000 years old.
Scientists from Germany’s Max Planck Institute and others sequenced 16,569 base pairs of the finger bone’s mitochondrial DNA genome, and the results indicate the new hominen shared a common ancestor with both neanderthals and ancient modern humans sometime around a million years ago. The research team included Michael Shunkov and Anatoli Derevianko, the two Russian archaeologists who discovered the bone in 2008. The study appears in the journal Nature.
Further sequencing of DNA from cell nucleuses will be done next, and could help pinpoint the hominen’s exact origins. If confirmed, the discovery would mean four different species of humans (the 4th would be the Indonesian Hobbit Homo floresiensis) co-existed on Earth some 40,000 years ago.
Courtesy Mark RyanHairs extracted from prehistoric hyena droppings in South Africa are most likely those of early humans that lived in the region around between 195,000 to 257,000 years ago. The human hairs - extracted from a nine-inch block of fossilized dung (coprolite) - are the most ancient yet known. Whether the ancient human had been attacked by the hyena or his remains scavenged by it is not known, but the discovery illustrates some of the difficulties that confronted early man. The findings have been accepted for publication in the Journal of Archaeological Science. In the meantime, click here to learn more.
Courtesy Thomas RocheJust a reminder, the Twin Cities Public Television presentation of “Our Origins: The Human Spark” will be airing Sunday, January 24th at 4 PM on tpt2 and statewide on tptMN at 8 PM. It will re-air on tptLIFE on Sunday the 31st at Noon. This excellent program was produced in collaboration with the Science Museum of Minnesota and features interdisciplinary research from University of Minnesota faculty in several departments including the Department of Anthropology's Evolutionary Anthropology Lab and researchers with the Jane Goodall Institute’s Primate Center (The U of MN Evolutionary Lab is currently updating their website to incorporate 3-D interactive videos of evolutionary teaching casts so check back in the future for more interactive learning). Internationally significant work on early human evolution is being done at the University of Minnesota and there were several faculty members interviewed for the production including: Professors Michael Wilson, Gillian Monnier, Kieran McNulty, and one of my mentors Professor Martha Tappen. Don’t miss it! Check out more details at Science Buzz.
Courtesy spodzoneThe earliest fossil footprints showing evidence of modern human physiology and gait were found recently in northern Kenya. The 1.5 million year-old footprints are attributed to Homo erectus and display features similar to those of modern humans. The findings appear in the recent issue of Science.
Scientists have uncovered the remains of an early modern human in China. The 40,000-year-old skeleton is important, because there are very few human fossils of that age in this part of the world.
Most scientists believe that modern humans evolved in Africa and spread across the globe about 70,000 years ago. They replaced older forms of humans, such as Neanderthals.
Scientists disagree over whether modern humans interbred with the earlier populations. The new fossil, while clearly of a modern human, does contain some features of other types, thus lending weight to the theory that the various populations did mix.