Why Early Human Ancestors Took to Two Feet
May 24, 2013 — A new study by archaeologists at the University of York challenges evolutionary theories behind the development of our earliest ancestors from tree dwelling quadrupeds to upright bipeds capable of walking and scrambling.
Neanderthal Culture: Old Masters
The earliest known cave paintings fuel arguments about whether Neanderthals were the mental equals of modern humans.
In a damp Spanish cave, Alistair Pike applies a small grinder to the world’s oldest known paintings. Every few minutes, the dentist-drill sound stops and Pike, an archaeologist from the University of Southampton, UK, stands aside so that a party of tourists can admire the simple artwork — hazy red disks, stencilled handprints, the outlines of bison — daubed on the cave wall tens of thousands of years ago. He hopes that the visitors won’t notice the small scuff marks he has left.
Question: What caused the image of a bloody, crucified, man to miraculously appear on the Shroud, which is impossible to reproduce today in the world’s most high tech laboratory?
Answer: The Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity on the first Easter Sunday, 33AD.
The Shroud is dated to the 13th-14th centuries CE with a 5% margin of error. Unless your myth died hundreds of years after his purported crucifixion according to the Gospels, the Shroud is indeed a fake. Stop feeding lies to the gullible; it’s wrong. That and you’re acting as if we have good reason to believe this coming from a Catholic website. It’s called confirmation bias. That is also the problem with this thing called faith; it causes its adherents to suspend contrary evidence. Don’t turn around and say you haven’t done that. You can say that you didn’t know; however, I would doubt that because it was dated in 1988 and it was dated independently in a few labs. I’m pretty sure you’ve heard this through the grapevine, but you’ve chosen to ignore tested science in favor of a religion you likely was raised to believe. Point of all this: question!
P.S. Don’t put this nonsense on the atheism tag. None of us are convinced by confirmation bias. Most of us are atheists because we’ve broken that spell.
A newly deciphered Egyptian text, dating back almost 1,200 years, tells part of the crucifixion story of Jesus with apocryphal plot twists, some of which have never been seen before.
Written in the Coptic language, the ancient text tells of Pontius Pilate, the judge who authorized Jesus’ crucifixion, having dinner with Jesus before his crucifixion and offering to sacrifice his own son in the place of Jesus. It also explains why Judas used a kiss, specifically, to betray Jesus — because Jesus had the ability to change shape, according to the text — and it puts the day of the arrest of Jesus on Tuesday evening rather than Thursday evening, something that contravenes the Easter timeline.
This is an interesting supplement to Robert Conner’s Magic in the New Testament. However, it’s also an interesting supplement to mythicism altogether. Is this shape-shifter theory supported by the Gospels? Yes! Let’s consider some instances:
14At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.
16Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!”
This passage clearly states that Mary didn’t recognize Jesus and that she thought he was a gardener. It was only after hearing him say her name that she realized that it was Jesus. Of course, one can see the theology in this passage: “my sheep hear my voice and they follow (John 10:27).” However, if we are to take this on face value, Jesus appeared in a form that Mary did not recognize. This occurred after the crucifixion and hence, it could have also been a hallucination—hence why I feel the next line of evidence to be much stronger.
2 After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. 3 His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. 4 And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
5 Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6 (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)
7 Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
8 Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.
This could be regarded as another instance of shape-shifting; also, this occurred prior to the crucifixion. On the magic view, Jesus could have anchored the disciples into seeing what he wanted them to see as modern day magicians, charismatic preachers and shamans do. On the mythicism view, this could be an embellished tale or an allegory that places Jesus on a level of importance equal to that of Moses (the representative of the law) and Elijah (the representative of the prophets).
There are other passages that support the shape-shifter theory (Luke 24:13-35, John 21:4). In the Luke passage, he vanishes after breaking bread. If the passage focused solely on that supper, one could have written this off as a hallucination; however, he walked with them and spoke to them for an extended period of time. Therefore, this passage is likely myth. In John, distance can be blamed perhaps; however, it isn’t likely that all of the disciples would fail to recognize him—even at a distance. Hence, he could have taken a different form. Also, they only realized who he was after hearing his voice and following his suggestion to cast the net on the right side of the boat. There are a few theological underpinnings here that I could get into, but I digress. So there we have it folks: a brand new Jesus theory (!): Jesus the shape-shifter.
Recent years have brought considerable riches for those of us interested in human evolution and 2012 proved no exception. New fossils, archaeological finds and genetic analyses yielded thrilling insights into the shape of the family tree, the diets of our ancient predecessors, the origins of art and advanced weaponry, the interactions between early Homo sapiens and other human species, and other facets of our ancestors’ lives. The list below highlights the discoveries that most captivated me in a year of revelations about the way we were. Did I miss your favorite? Let me know in the comments.
- A 3.4 million-year-old fossil foot suggests a second lineage of hominins (creatures more closely related to us than to our closest living relatives, chimpanzees) may have lived alongside Lucy’s kind and spent more time in the trees than on the ground.
- Fossils from Kenyadating to between 1.87 million and 1.95 million years ago rekindle debate over whether our own genus, Homo, split into multiple lineages early on.
- Analysis of tartar, molar wear and tooth chemistry in the nearly two-million-year-old hominin known as Australopithecus sediba shows that it had an unexpected diet, including tree bark.
- A shift in the technology and diet of early Homo around two million years ago may have doomed large carnivores
- Tiny bits of burned plants and bone from a South African cave show that humans had tamed fire by 1 million years ago–some 600,000 year earlier than had previously been documented.
- Our ancestors began making multicomponent tools in the form of deadly stone-tipped spears 500,000 years ago—200,000 years earlier than previously thought.
- Cave paintings in Spain are the oldest in the world and are sufficiently ancient to be the creations of Neandertals.
- Neandertals hunted birds for their fashionable feathersfor thousands of years and may have exploited certain plants for their medicinal properties–compelling evidence that our hominin cousins were cognitively sophisticated.
- Reconstructed genome of the Denisovans–an enigmatic group of archaic hominins—confirms that early Homo sapiens interbred with them and reveals new details of their genetic legacy.
- Whole-genome sequencing of modern hunter-gatherers from Africa turns up loads of previously unknown genetic variants and indicates that early Homo sapiens interbred with another hominin species long ago in Africa.
- Paleoanthropology’s hobbit, a tiny hominin species called Homo floresiensis, gets a new face thanks to forensic reconstruction–and the result is startlingly familiar.
- Stone tools and preserved poop from Oregon add to mounting evidence that the early human colonization of the Americas was more complex than scholars once envisioned.
- Study finds that mom’s metabolism—not the size of the pelvis—limits gestation length to nine months, providing a new explanation for why humans give birth to helpless babies.
The logical handcuffTM is applied when one exposes someone’s cognitive dissonance and puts someone in a logical bind; in other words, it is applied when one exposes the contradictory views held simultaneously by a given individual. For example, it is true that most creationists deny evolution whilst accepting biblical archaeology. However, this poses a glaring issue and their cognitive dissonance is rather obvious. They accept carbon dating methods when concerning things like King Solomon’s mines but they reject carbon dating methods when concerning anything in support of evolution—especially findings in the field of paleontology. It’s either accurate in both cases or inaccurate in both cases. They can’t have it both ways.
“Becoming Human” is a series of posts that periodically examines the evolution of the major traits and behaviors that define humans, such as big brains, language, technology and art.
For decades, anthropologists believed the ability to use tools separated modern humans from all other living things. Then scientists discovered chimpanzees use rocks to hammer open nuts and twigs to fish out termites from mounds. And then they learned tool use wasn’t even limited to apes. Monkeys, crows, sea otters and even octopuses manipulate objects to get what they want. Yet there’s no denying humans have taken technology to a completely different level. Given that our high-tech tools are one of our defining features, you’d think anthropologists would know when hominids began modifying stones to make tools and which species was the first to do so. But there’s still much to be learned about the origins of stone tools.
The oldest-known type of stone tools are stone flakes and the rock cores from which these flakes were removed. Presumably used for chopping and scraping, these tools are called Oldowan, named for Tanzania’s Olduvai Gorge, where they were first recognized. Louis Leakey first found roughly 1.8-million-year-old tools in the 1930s. But it wasn’t until the 1950s that he found hominid bones to go along with the Stone Age technology. In 1959, Leakey’s wife, Mary, discovered the species now known as Paranthropus boisei. With its giant teeth, massive jaws and relatively small brain, the hominid didn’t look very human, but the Leakeys concluded P. boisei had to be the site’s toolmaker—until the 1960s, when they found a slightly larger-brained hominid called Homo habilis (meaning “the handy man”). This more human-like hominid must have manufactured the tools, the Leakeys thought. But P. boisei and H. habilis overlapped in time (roughly 2.4/2.3 million years ago to 1.4/1.2 million years ago), so it’s been hard to definitively rule out the possibility that both types of hominids were capable of making stone tools.
It turns out neither species is probably eligible for the title of earliest toolmaker. In the 1990s, archaeologists recovered even older Oldowan tools at the Ethiopian site called Gona, dating to 2.6 million to 2.5 million years ago. Identifying the toolmaker is tricky because no fossils have been found in association with the artifacts, and there weren’t many hominid species present in East Africa during this time period to pick from. Paranthropus aethiopicus is one possibility. But so far only one skull and a few jaws of the species have been found in one area of Kenya, so not much is really known about the hominid.
A better choice might be Australopithecus garhi. The species was discovered at a site about 55 miles south of Gona, in association with animal bones that display the characteristic markings of butchering—indirect evidence of tool use. Again, not much is known about A. gahri, as scientists have only found one skull, some skull fragments and one skeleton that is tentatively considered part of the species.
Even these tools, however, are probably not the oldest stone tools, say Sileshi Semaw, director of the Gona Paleoanthropological Research Project, and the other researchers who found the Gona artifacts. The tools at this site are so well made, requiring such precision, that the anthropologists suspect that by 2.6 million years ago hominids had been making stone tools for thousands of years.
In 2010, a group of archaeologists claimed the origins of stone tools went back another 800,000 years. Shannon McPherron of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany and colleagues announced they had discovered signs of butchering at another Ethiopian site, dating to 3.39 million years ago. The rib from a cow-sized hoofed mammal and the leg fragment from a goat-sized mammal contained microscopic scratches indicative of cutting and scraping to remove flesh and pounding to break open a bone to retrieve marrow. The only hominid species around at that time was Australopithecus afarensis, Lucy’s species. McPherron’s team suggested tools have not yet been found with Lucy’s kind because early tool use was probably not as extensive as it was later on. So hominids were probably making fewer tools and thus leaving behind fewer artifacts for scientists to unearth.
The case for 3.39-million-year-old stone-tool manufacturing is controversial. McPherron and colleagues acknowledge that hominids didn’t necessarily make tools to butcher their prey; they could have used naturally sharp rocks. Other researchers doubt any butchering even happened at all. Manuel Domínguez-Rodrigo of Complutense University of Madrid in Spain and colleagues say the cut marks may actually be trampling damage or scratches from the abrasive sediments the bones were buried in. Further research is needed to confirm the marks were actually made by hominids.
Although the exact timing of when hominids began making stone tools is still unsettled, at least one thing is clear: Big brains weren’t required to make simple stone tools. The evolution of bigger brains comes at least a million years after our ancestors invented the Oldowan toolkit
By 200,000 years ago, Homo sapiens had emerged somewhere in Africa. By 14,000 years ago, our species had spread to every continent except Antarctica. What happened in between—the pattern of where humans went and when—is still being worked out. To reconstruct the peopling of the world, anthropologists rely on several types of clues.
Fossils: The most obvious way to track our ancestors’ movements is to look for their physical remains. Researchers sketch out travel routes by mapping where the oldest human fossils are found. The earliest Homo sapiens bones outside of Africa come from a cave site in Israel called Qafzeh. Here the skeletons of both adults and children date to as far as 125,000 years ago. This first foray out of Africa didn’t last long. Humans disappeared from the fossil record outside of Africa for many tens of thousands of years, perhaps because the climate became too harsh. Fossils tell us humans made a successful, sustained exodus by at least 50,000 years ago. Human fossils found at Australia’s Lake Mungo site, for example, have been dated to between 46,000 and 50,000 years ago (PDF).
The problem with relying on skeletal remains to map early migrations is that the timing of our ancestors’ travels is only as good as the methods used to date the fossils. Sometimes scientists find bones in places that are not easily dated by geological techniques. And in some areas, fossils aren’t prone to preservation, so there are probably huge gaps in our knowledge of the paths early humans took as they spread around the world.
Artifacts: Archaeologists also look for the items people made and left behind. For example, stone tool discoveries suggest an alternative route out of Africa. For decades, scientists assumed humans left Africa via the Sinai Peninsula, but in the last several years some researchers have favored a “southern” route: leaving from the Horn of Africa, crossing the narrowest part of the Red Sea and entering into southern Arabia. Last year, archaeologists reported finding stone tools in Oman dating to roughly 106,000 years ago. At that time, the Arabian Peninsula was a much more hospitable place than it is today, home to numerous freshwater lakes. As the region became drier, people might have moved east into Asia or returned to Africa.
Of course, when the only remains at an archaeological site are tools, it’s hard to say with absolute certainty who made them. The researchers working in Oman noted that the tools they found in Arabia match the technology of modern humans found in eastern Africa about 128,000 years ago. The team made the case that the tool makers on either side of the Red Sea belonged to the same cultural group—and therefore the same species. But as anthropologists discover more species, such as the Hobbit or the Denisovans, that lived alongside modern humans outside of Africa up until a few tens of thousands of years ago, it becomes harder to say stone tools alone indicate the presence of Homo sapiens.
DNA: Genetic data can help fill in the holes in the human migration story that fossils and artifacts can’t address. Anthropologists collect DNA samples from different ethnic groups around the world. Next, they count up the genetic differences caused by mutations in certain sections of the genome. Groups that are more closely related will have fewer genetic differences, which implies they split off more recently form each other than they did with more distantly related groups. Scientists calculate when in the past different groups diverged from each other by adding up all of the genetic differences between two groups and then estimating how often genetic mutations occurred. Such analyses not only give a sense of when different parts of the world were first inhabited, but they can also reveal more intricate patterns of movement. For example, genetic data suggest North America was colonized by three separate waves of people leaving Siberia across the Bering Strait.
Genetic data are not foolproof, however. The estimated divergence times are only as accurate as the estimated mutation rate, which scientists still debate. In the early days of DNA studies, scientists used either mitochondrial DNA, passed down only by the mother, or the Y chromosome, inherited only from father to son. Neither of these types of DNA presented the full picture of what people were doing in the past, as mitochondrial DNA only tracks maternal lineages while the Y chromosome only follows paternal lines. Today, whole genome sequencing is beginning to allow researchers to trace entire populations.
Languages: Anthropologists use languages in methods analogous to studying DNA; they look for patterns of similarities, or differences, in vocabularies or other aspects of language. Earlier this year, researchers compared different languages within the Indo-European language family to determine where these languages arose. After assessing the relationship between the languages, the researchers considered the geographic ranges where those languages are currently spoken. They concluded that the Indo-European language family originated in what is today Turkey and then spread west into Europe and east into southern Asia as people moved into these areas. But such linguistic analyses may only track relatively recent migration patterns. For example, H. Craig Melchert, a linguist at the University of California, Los Angeles, told Science News that the Indo-European languages can only be traced back about 7,000 years.
Neanderthals have a reputation for being dumb brutes. While modern humans (Homo sapiens) were painting cave murals, sculpting tiny figurines and crafting beaded jewelry some 30,000 to 50,000 years ago, Neanderthals weren’t making any art. At least, that’s the way it appears in the archaeological record. Now, a new study of bird fossils suggests our cousins were indeed capable of expressing themselves symbolically—using feathers as personal adornments.
In the last few years, researchers have reported a few archaeological sites with evidence that Neanderthals removed feathers and claws from birds such as raptors, presumably for ornamental purposes. Clive Finlayson of the Gibraltar Museum and his colleagues wanted to see how widespread this behavior was among Neanderthals. They published their findings last week in PLOS One.
To address the question, the team looked at Neanderthals’ association with fossils of raptors (including vultures and eagles) and corvids (including ravens and magpies). They focused on these birds because modern people generally don’t consume them and therefore Neanderthals probably didn’t either. Thus, finding these types of birds at an archaeological site helps exclude the possibility that our cousins were eating them. In searching almost 1,700 sites across Europe and Asia that contain bird fossils, the team noted that species with dark plumage were more common at Neanderthal sites than would be expected by chance alone. So, it seems Neanderthals across their geographic range liked black birds.
Next, the researchers looked at three cave sites on Gibraltar to examine more closely what Neanderthals might have been doing with these birds. The caves date from 57,000 to 28,000 years ago, before modern humans entered the region. The team found 604 avian skeletal pieces, representing at least 124 individual birds. With less than 3 percent of the bones containing the tooth marks of rodents or carnivores, Neanderthals are the likely reason the birds were brought into the caves.
More than half of the bones were wing bones. There’s no reason to expect wing bones to be disproportionately preserved in the fossil record, so this is another sign that Neanderthals were mainly interested in feathers, the researchers say. Furthermore, most of the bones with stone-tool markings are the wing bones. If Neanderthals were butchering the animals for meat, you’d expect to find the most markings on bones connected to fleshy areas, such as the breast bone.
Because soil bacteria rapidly decompose feathers, the researchers conclude our cousins weren’t using feathers as bedding. The only use that makes sense, Finlayson and colleagues argue, is plucking feathers to make headdresses, cloaks or some other adornment.
“Neanderthals, though different in a number of ways from modern humans, had comparable cognitive capacities that included symbolic expression,” the researchers write. Furthermore, they say, any differences in the art or artifacts left behind by the two species was the result of cultural differences, not intellect.
But does the capacity for symbolic expression mean Neanderthals had mental abilities that were on par with modern humans? It depends on who you ask. For decades, symbolism was considered the key cognitive trait that separated modern humans from other hominids. Today, anthropologists think there may be a range of abilities that define the human mind, such as planning for the future and processing disparate chunks of information at the same time (working memory). Until researchers can agree on the core features that characterize human cognition, it will be impossible to determine whether Neanderthal brains were really just like ours.
Skilled Hunters 300,000 Years Ago
ScienceDaily (Sep. 17, 2012) — Finds from early stone age site in north-central Germany show that human ingenuity is nothing new — and was probably shared by now-extinct species of humans.