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Beethoven: It All Began With a Thump

Live Science in all seriousness, “When monkeys drum, they activate brain networks linked with communication, new findings that suggest a common origin of primate vocal and nonvocal communication systems and shed light on the origins of language and music.”     Choi reported on work at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics to determine […]

What’s in a Name?  Sima Fossils Confuse Human Evolution Story

“A hush fell over the room….”  Ian Tattersall had just astonished paleoanthropologists gathered for a meeting on human origins in Gibraltar.  The group was puzzling over a treasure trove of hominin bones found in the mid-1990s at Sima de los Huesos in Spain.  What should they be called?     The co-discoverer, Juan Luis Arsuaga, […]

Step Aside Lucy; It’s Ardi Time

A new fossil human ancestor has taken center stage.  Those who love Lucy, the australopithecine made famous by Donald Johanson (and numerous TV specials), are in for a surprise.  Lucy is a has been.  Her replacement is not Desi Arnaz, but is designated Ardi, short for Ardipithecus ramidus – the new leading lady in the […]

Human Evolution Celebration Exposed

The evolutionary story of human origins is often told like a cultural myth that is intuitively obvious.  Humans emerged in Africa after their ancestors came down from the trees and walked upright.  They began to hunt with stone tools and used fire.  They migrated north out of Africa and populated Europe, overtaking the Neanderthals who […]

Stone Tools May Be Crocodile Stomach Stones

“Were crocodiles responsible for the stones we call tools?” is the title of a surprising letter to the editor in Nature last week.1  Patrick Dempsey (the archaeologist, not the actor) raised a possibility that paleoanthropologists and the journals have been making a big mistake for a long time.  He asked, “Could Nature have been unknowingly […]

Human Evolution Story Confounded – Again

Human fossils in Georgia (Asia) have confounded the timeline of human evolution again.  The UK newspaper Independent reported that the 3 skulls of Homo erectus are rewriting the history of man.  If these are as old as claimed (1.8 million years), it would toss overboard the long held belief that modern humans first emerged in […]

Mutation: Not a Bug, a Feature

Evolutionary biologists are sometimes risque with the way they discuss mutations.  They treat them almost like magic wands, able to produce wondrous new organs and functions by accident. Health to them, death to you:  One article on Science Daily discussed a mutation that causes congenital heart disease in humans, but may have been a stepping […]

How the Girl Evolved Fear of Spiders

Today’s Evolutionary Just-So Story is brought to you by New Scientist: “Girls Are Primed to Fear Spiders.”  Once upon a time, while cavemen were out hunting and gathering, the women back home had to learn to avoid dangerous animals.  David Rakison of Carnegie Mellon University put this all into evolutionary terms for the rest of […]

Fire Technology Began Much Earlier Than Believed

A team publishing in Science1 claims they found evidence that humans were using fire treatment of stone tools much, much, much earlier than prior dates for cognitive abilities.  But they can’t seem to settle on just how early.  The dates vary by more than 100%.  One date, 72,000 years before the present, is about 50,000 […]

Evolution of the Knuckle Head

An evolutionary anthropologist looked at the knuckles of chimpanzees.  Then she looked at the knuckles of gorillas.  Then she looked at her own knuckles.  Conclusion: humans evolved from tree climbers, not knuckle walkers.  Her theory can be read in Live Science, based on a paper in PNAS.1     Tracy Kivell and Daniel Schmitt from […]

The Early Man Gets the Big Brain

“Why are human brains so big?” asked Live Science.  Why are our brains larger relative to body size than almost all other animals?  Rachael Rettner reported on various answers.  To her credit, she pointed out the fallacies of trying to test hypotheses when there is insufficient evidence.     Rettner evaluated three hypotheses about why […]

What Makes You Human?

If you are a war-mongering beast who likes to burn things, you’re displaying your evolutionary past.  That’s what a couple of news reports are claiming.  New Scientist has a review of two books: Fire: The spark that ignited human evolution by Frances D. Burton, and Catching Fire: How cooking made us human by Richard Wrangham.  […]

Tickle Me Darwin

Observation: orangutans seem to laugh when tickled.  Conclusion: humans evolved laughter from our ape past.  This is the story being promoted by the science news outlets.  “At least 10 million years ago, our ancestors may have been laughing it up over the latest stone-age prank or bout of tickling,” announced Live Science.     New […]

Hominids, Homonyms, and Homo sapiens

How’s the story of human evolution hanging together these days?  There’s no better place to look than the Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences.  In the yearly issue released this month, Ian Tattersall and Jeffrey Schwartz gave a pretty thorough overview of the “Evolution of the Genus Homo.”1  Their account is fraught with controversy, […]

Can Humans Scientifically Analyze One Another?

Imagine an alien landing on Earth and trying to figure out two groups of people.  One group wields spears and arrows and decides that those who interfere with their traditions are enemies to be killed.  Another lives in penthouses and universities and explains the behavior of the other group as evolved tendencies from their animal […]
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