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The Evolution of Man

Italy Ngala Offline
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Skulls found in China were part modern human, part Neanderthal; possibly new species
By Ben Guarino March 3

Reconstructions of the skulls superimposed over the site where they were found. (Xiujie Wu)

*This image is copyright of its original author

Modern humans outlasted the Neanderthals by about 40,000 years and counting. But don’t pat yourself on the back too firmly for outliving those troglodytes. Neanderthals crafted tools and tamed fire. They cared for their dead. Animal horns and blackened fire pits encircling the remains of a Neanderthal toddler suggest a 42,000-year-old funeral rite. If a Neanderthal indeed wore a talon necklace, as a collection of polished eagle claws indicate, they beat us to jewelry, too. Perhaps one of your ancient ancestors found the claw necklaces sexy: Some scientists theorize humans gave Neanderthals genital herpes and tapeworm parasites.

Their proportions, however, remained distinctly Neanderthal. Neanderthal bodies were shorter and stockier, more Gimli son of Gloin than Gigi Hadid. Their skulls were built differently, too, with a few features — like heavy brow ridges — particularly unlike ours.

Which makes a pair of newly described skulls something of a wonder. The partial skulls have features up to this time unseen in the hominid fossil record, sharing both human and Neanderthal characteristics.

“It is a very exciting discovery,” as Katerina Harvati, an expert in Neanderthal evolution at the University of Tübingen in Germany, who was not involved with the research, told The Washington Post. “Especially because the human fossil record from East Asia has been not only fragmentary but also difficult to date.”

Excavators dug up the skull cap fragments in 2007 and 2014, in Lingjing, located in China’s Henan province. The diggers discovered two partial skulls in a site thought to be inhabited 105,000 to 125,000 years ago, during an epoch called the Pleistocene. The owners of the skulls were good hunters, capable of fashioning stone blades from quartz. Ancient bones of horses and cattle, as well as extinct woolly rhinoceros and giant deer, were found strewn near the skull remains.

Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and at Washington University in St. Louis described the skulls as having a “mosaic” of features. Writing Thursday in the journal Science, they noted similarities with three groups: The brow ridges of the skulls were modest and the skull bone mass was reduced, like features of early modern humans living in the Old World. The skulls had a broad and flat brainpan, like other eastern Eurasian humans from the mid-Pleistocene epoch. Their semicircular ear canals and the enlarged section at the back of the skull, however, were like a Neanderthal’s.

“Eastern Asian late archaic humans have been interpreted to resemble their Neanderthal contemporaries to some degree,” Xiujie Wu, an author of the study at the Chinese Academy of Sciences‘ Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, said in a statement. “Yet it is only with the discovery of two human crania,” she said, “that the nature of these eastern Eurasian early Late Pleistocene archaic humans is becoming clear.”

The large brains of these archaic humans ruled out Homo erectus and other known hominid species, the scientists wrote. The researchers were vague about what they thought the species might be, describing them only as archaic humans. But Wu told Science Magazine that the fossils could represent “a kind of unknown or new ar­chaic human that survived on in East Asia to 100,000 years ago.”

Other experts speculated that these skull caps could represent a little-known human relative: the mysterious Denisovans, a species that currently exists only as sequenced DNA taken from finger bone and a tooth found in a Siberian cave. Thought to live some 100,000 to 50,000 years ago, the Denisovans shared genetic material with humans as well as Neanderthals. A 2015 analysis of the specimen scraps indicated that the Denisovans lived for some 60,000 years side-by-side with Neanderthals and humans in Asia.

(That humans interbred with Neanderthals is, of course, old news. Many humans who have Eurasian ancestry carry bits of Neanderthal DNA, around 2 to 5 percent of it, within their genes. In the process of swapping DNA, Neanderthals lent us genes for bad skin while boosting our immune responses.)

The cranial remains “show an intriguing combination of Neanderthal-like as well as archaic features,” Harvati said. “This would be the combination that one would expect based on the ancient DNA analysis of Denisovans, who were closely related to Neanderthals.”

The paper did not mention Denisovans, the study authors said, because DNA extraction attempts failed to yield genetic material.

But the lack of even a nod toward the Denisovans in the new report was a point that Philipp Gunz, an evolutionary anthropologist at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, found surprising. The fossils, which Gunz called “remarkable,” as he told The Post, “certainly look like what many paleoanthropologists (myself included) imagine the Denisovans to look like.”

Time may tell — if scientists can pull off a successful laboratory analysis.

“Unfortunately, however, it is not possible to infer skull morphology from ancient DNA directly,” Gunz said. “I therefore hope that future studies will be able to extract ancient DNA from these or similar specimens.”
"Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin." C. Darwin
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Italy Ngala Offline
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Late Pliocene environmental change during the transition from Australopithecus to Homo Robinson, Rowan, Campisano, Wynn & Reed, 2017

Abstract:
"It has long been hypothesized that the transition from Australopithecus to Homo in eastern Africa was linked to the spread of open and arid environments near the Plio−Pleistocene boundary, but data for the latest Pliocene are scarce. Here we present new stable carbon isotope data from the late Pliocene mammalian fauna from Ledi-Geraru, in the lower Awash Valley (LAV), Ethiopia, and mammalian community analyses from the LAV and Turkana Basin. These data, combined with pedogenic carbonate stable isotopes, indicate that the two regions were largely similar through the Plio−Pleistocene, but that important environmental differences existed during the emergence of Homo around 2.8 million years ago. The mid-Pliocene to late Pliocene interval in the LAV was characterized by increasingly C4-dominated, arid and seasonal environments. The early Homo mandible LD 350-1 has a carbon isotope value similar to that of earlier Australopithecus from the LAV, possibly indicating that the emergence of Homo from Australopithecus did not involve a dietary shift. Late Pliocene LAV environments contrast with contemporaneous environments in the Turkana Basin, which were more woody and mesic. These findings have important implications for the environmental conditions surrounding the emergence of Homo, as well as recent hypotheses regarding Plio−Pleistocene environmental change in eastern Africa."

Other articles related:
Grassy beginning for earliest Homo
"Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin." C. Darwin
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Italy Ngala Offline
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( This post was last modified: 11 hours ago by Ngala )

Potential hominin affinities of Graecopithecus from the Late Miocene of Europe Fuss, Spassov, Begun & Bohme, 2017

*This image is copyright of its original author

Painting of Graecopithecus freybergi. Reconstruction credits: Velizar Simeonovski


*This image is copyright of its original author

Fig 1. Studied specimens and virtual reconstructions of the holotype of Graecopithecus.
a, Type mandible of G. freybergi from Pyrgos, Greece. b, RIM 438/387 –Left P4 of cf. Graecopithecus sp. from Azmaka, Bulgaria. From left to right: distal, mesial, lingual, buccal, occlusal and apical. c-i, μCT based 3D reconstructions of the type mandible showing the partially preserved roots and pulp canals from c-m3 and the crowns of right p4-m2. Further images with a magnification of the virtually isolated teeth and pulp canals are provided in S1 Fig. c, Occlusal view. d-e, Apical view. f, Buccal view of the left hemimandible. g, Buccal view of the right hemimandible. h, Lingual view of the left hemimandible. i, Lingual view of the right hemimandible. Scale bars, 10 mm.   show less

Abstract:
"The split of our own clade from the Panini is undocumented in the fossil record. To fill this gap we investigated the dentognathic morphology of Graecopithecus freybergi from Pyrgos Vassilissis (Greece) and cf. Graecopithecus sp. from Azmaka (Bulgaria), using new μCT and 3D reconstructions of the two known specimens. Pyrgos Vassilissis and Azmaka are currently dated to the early Messinian at 7.175 Ma and 7.24 Ma. Mainly based on its external preservation and the previously vague dating, Graecopithecus is often referred to as nomen dubium. The examination of its previously unknown dental root and pulp canal morphology confirms the taxonomic distinction from the significantly older northern Greek hominine Ouranopithecus. Furthermore, it shows features that point to a possible phylogenetic affinity with hominins. G. freybergi uniquely shares p4 partial root fusion and a possible canine root reduction with this tribe and therefore, provides intriguing evidence of what could be the oldest known hominin."

Other articles related:
The Oldest Hominins Could Have Lived in Europe, Not Africa, Claims New Study
"Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin." C. Darwin
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Netherlands peter Offline
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( This post was last modified: 3 hours ago by peter )

Good job, Ngala. Very interesting.

Would you be able to do a post about the origin of man when you have time? A post in which you combine what is known, including the recent info from southern Africa?

I'm interested in evolution, but often lack the time to read. My guess is I won't be the only one interested in a kind of overview on the evolution of man.
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