July 28, 2016 | David F. Coppedge

More Upsets in Human Origins Stories

When it comes to a consensus on how humans evolved, there’s no “there” there.

Upsets to notions about human evolution are so common, the only thing evolving is the story. Look at the news for proof.

How China is rewriting the book on human origins (Nature). Everything you know is wrong again. Jane Qiu writes, “Fossil finds in China are challenging ideas about the evolution of modern humans and our closest relatives.” It’s hard to challenge an already-challenged field more than it is, or to rewrite a book that has has more corrections than text, but paleoanthropologists always find a way. In the “evolving story” of human evolution, Peking Man, classified as Homo erectus, is coming back into vogue. Is this just China acting nationalistic? As we reported yesterday, that’s what Darren Curnoe thinks, but he’s not necessarily unbiased. Qiu’s article is filled with confusing and conflicting “possibilities” of what the fossils mean, even “radical” possibilities. PhysOrg talks about the chaos, too.

Human phylogeography and diversity (PNAS). In this paper, part of a NAS series on phylogeography, Alexander Harcourt of UC Davis propounds the usual “out of Africa” story, but peppers his analysis with mention of controversies. The perhapsimaybecouldness index (PCI) is so high in his paper, there seems to be no solid ground.

Neanderthal skulls and brains may have developed just like ours (New Scientist). Here’s more reason to welcome Brother Neanderthal into the fellowship. “Great minds grow alike,” Colin Barras writes. “That in turn suggests that Neanderthals were perhaps not so cognitively different from us – although not everyone agrees with this interpretation.” True; there still are some historical racists in paleoanthropology circles. Ponce de Leon’s team’s paper is in Current Biology.

Mystery ancient human ancestor found in Australasian family tree (New Scientist). Everyone likes a good mystery, like “Who’s your daddy?” Alice Klein discusses “An unknown hominin species that bred with early human ancestors when they migrated from Africa to Australasia,” but that’s from divination into the genes of living humans. And if it bred with other humans, on what basis is it called a different species?

Orangutan ‘copies human speech’ (BBC News): Reporters at the BBC must be desperate. You can train an orangutan to mimic some human sounds, but so what? Parrots do better than that. An ape will do anything for a banana. It doesn’t mean Rocky knows what he was “saying.”

How rope was made 40,000 years ago (Science Daily). Add another data point to the conundrum of why modern humans took so long to invent farming and civilization. Here’s what a team found in a German cave.

The find is a carefully carved and beautifully preserved piece of mammoth ivory 20.4 cm in length with four holes between 7 and 9 mm in diameter. Each of the holes is lined with deep, and precisely cut spiral incisions. The new find demonstrates that these elaborate carvings are technological features of rope-making equipment rather than just decoration.

Didn’t anyone back then try roping a cow?

If the story is constantly evolving, it’s moving away from the truth.

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