Neanderthals evolved greater intelligence independently

A rare find of Neanderthal fossils or subfossils shows that early Neanderthals were small-brained and developed larger brains independently of the line that led to us.

As best we can tell, humans and Neanderthals diverged from a common ancestor about 500,000 years ago, a species called Homo heidelbergenesis. Modern humans appeared in Africa some 300,000 years later, a time when Neanderthals were already romping around Europe and Asia.

These skulls are 430,000 years old. They have a small  braincase but in other respects have Neanderthal characteristics.

…the Neanderthal trait of an elongated and rounded brain case came later.

Human evolution: Did we come from monkeys?

The short answer is Yes. Our ancestors evolved from monkeys into apes. We are apes and moneys just as we are mammals and vertebrates and deuterostomes and metazoans.

Thanks to FFreeThinker for making this informative video.

A. sediba is a splendid transitional fossil

A man holding a small, semi-human fossil skull

Lee Berger with A. sediba

Look at the quiet, yet awed, delight on this palaeontologist’s face. That is the reward of science. He has been analyzing two almost complete skeletons of Australopithecus sediba found together in South Africa.

Another gap in human evolution has been decisively filled. Australopithecus africanus, discovered by Raymond Dart in the 1930s, was a climbing, ape-like hominid. Homo habilis and Homo erectus were human-like and apparently tool–using. A. sediba seems to be right between them. It has longer legs than A. africanus and walks bipedally. It has features found in both A. africanus and H. habilis. Its hand is more like our own than is that of H. habilis. Carl Zimmer explains: The verge of human. Between this fossil and Ardipithecus ramidus, we seem to be getting a grasp on ape evolution.


Cranial capacity:


Papers on Homo floresiensis

Out of curiosity, I looked up the research papers on Homo floresiensis.

There are more but that’s where I ran out of time and energy.

Meet Australopithecus sediba

Australopithecus sediba skull

Matthew Berger, aged 9, tripped over a lump while his father hunted for fossils and thus his father uncovered beautifully preserved fossils of two individuals in South Africa from about 1.9 million years ago. Discover Magazine reports:

…we don’t know for sure where Australopithecus sediba would belong on the evolutionary tree with respect to us. “There’s no compelling evidence that this newly proposed species was ancestral to Homo,” remarks Bernard Wood of George Washington University in Washington, D.C. [Science News]. These bones date to a time when the genus Australopithecus was beginning to give way to Homo, our own. The New York Times reports, however, that while Berger’s team places its find within Australopithecus, not all anthropologists are sure it can be so easily classified.For instance, the Australopithecus sediba arms are long like an ape’s, suggesting these hominids were competent tree climbers. But the hands are smaller, like ours. The boy’s skull is small, like Australopithecus. But his nose and cheekbones more closely resemble Homo.

“They are a fascinating mosaic of features,” said Rick Potts, director of the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian Institution. “It reminds us of the combining and recombining of characteristics, the tinkering and experimentation, that go on in evolution” [The New York Times].

Donald Johanson, the discoverer of Lucy (which is classified under Australopithecus), praised the find but says Berger’s interpretation is way off. He think the fossil is a variety of Homo.

Human origin pinpointed

Robert Park wrote in What’s New:

The discovery in 2003 by Tim White of UC Berkeley of a 160,000 year old partial skeleton of Homo sapiens in Ethiopia was the strongest evidence yet that we did indeed come out of Africa.

sarahatishkoffA young molecular anthropologist at the University of Maryland, Sarah Tishkoff, saw that the mapping of the human genome provides a new tool for tracking the out-of-Africa migration of Homo sapiens: footprints in the DNA of living humans.

Now at the Univ. of Pennsylvania, Tishkoff’ s team, which included linguists as well as geneticists, narrowed the origin of modern humans to the inhospitable borderland between Angola and Namibia. Their study, published yesterday in Science, took researchers into remote regions to sample the bloodline of more than 100 distinct populations.

The exit point was in Northeast Africa at about the midpoint of the Red Sea.

You can read about her project here.

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