Thursday, April 27, 2017

Progress in Human History

I think I saw her in Walmart last week
A few interesting items in the older history of the human race. First, this news that the Indonesian Hobbit, Homo floresiensis, was probably a more distant relative of humans than we might have thought: Origins of 'hobbit' species discovered
Scientists have discovered the origins of a short, ancient species of human nicknamed 'hobbits' due to their small stature, putting to rest several other theories that had been hotly debated ever since its discovery.

Homo floresiensis stood at an average height of three feet and six inches. Fossils from the species were found on the island of Flores in Indonesia in 2003.

One popular theory about its origins was that the species evolved to a smaller size from the taller Homo erectus, which has been found on nearby Java in Indonesia.

Another theory was that it wasn't a new species at all but an early human ancestor with some kind of genetic disorder — possibly Down Syndrome.

But new research by Dr. Debbie Argue from the Australian National University in Canberra, and published in the Journal of Human Evolution, has determined that Homo floresiensis is its own distinct species with roots dating back 1.75 million years.

Argue and her team studied 133 different characteristics of the Homo floresiensis skull, jaw, teeth, shoulders, legs and arms, and compared them to all other known hominid species.
I'd feel better about it if this were DNA evidence, but that's a lot to ask at this point. Even if they got good DNA from an H. floresiensis tooth or bone (and I'm sure they're trying), where would they get H. habilis DNA to compare it to? It's remarkable enough that they have good DNA from the Neandertals and Denisovans, much more recent.

They found that it's a long-surviving cousin of Homo habilis, an early human ancestor with roots in Africa. None of their tests yielded evidence to support the theory that Homo floresiensis evolved from Homo erectus.

"These two species are most likely to have shared a unique common ancestor that was not shared with any other species in our analysis," she said. "But [Homo floresiensis] lived half a world away, and is separated in time by maybe two million years."

Argue says one of the most interesting things about the species is that it lived until about 54,000 years ago — which is very recent, evolutionarily speaking.
Apparently, the little guys and gals were pretty successful in their own little world, and hung around a long time on the Indonesian  archipelagos. I suspect that when they really start looking around they'll find more relatives. They clearly overlapped with a number of other primitive humans, Homo erectus, Denisovans, and Neandertals and modern Homo sapiens to name a few.

Moving forward a few tens of thousands of years, Ancient humans may have reached Americas 100,000 years earlier than thought
In a provocative and controversial claim, scientists say a scattering of bones and stones suggests ancestral humans reached the New World more than 100,000 years earlier than previously thought.

Most genetic and archaeological evidence shows humans first entered the Americas some 15,000 years ago. But a study nearly 25 years in the making in this week’s Nature finds that the 130,000-year-old bones of a mastodon, an extinct relative of the mammoth, unearthed in California were split open with blows from rocks. Rocks discovered near the bones bear the hallmarks of use as hammers, the scientists report.

The smashed bones may have been the handiwork of a Neanderthal, the scientists say, or the more ancient human relative called Homo erectus, or even our own species, Homo sapiens.

“We are making a claim that’s kind of out there,” acknowledges study co-author Daniel Fisher of the University of Michigan. “We have had to toil over years to make sure we have considered every angle.”
Again, if true, this really revolutionizes our ideas of how the Americas were colonized. Did Neandertals or even Homo erectus get there across Beringia during a previous glaciation? Did they muck around on the continent long enough to bump into (and interbreed) with the proto-Amerindians? Cool if it happened. I'd be much happier with this if there were actual hominid bones to go with it, but I wouldn't expect them to bury their dead with their dinner.

Finally, moving to (almost) civilized man, some scientists are claiming that one of the earliest stone monuments of man, via Dieneke's Blog:  Younger Dryas comet impact encoded in Göbekli Tepe?
We have interpreted much of the symbolism of Göbekli Tepe in terms of astronomical events. By matching low-relief carvings on some of the pillars at Göbekli Tepe to star asterisms we find compelling evidence that the famous ‘Vulture Stone’ is a date stamp for 10950 BC ± 250 yrs, which corresponds closely to the proposed Younger Dryas event, estimated at 10890 BC. We also find evidence that a key function of Göbekli Tepe was to observe meteor showers and record cometary encounters. Indeed, the people of Göbekli Tepe appear to have had a special interest in the Taurid meteor stream, the same meteor stream that is proposed as responsible for the Younger-Dryas event. Is Göbekli Tepe the ‘smoking gun’ for the Younger-Dryas cometary encounter, and hence for coherent catastrophism? Link (pdf)
I looked at the link, and you have to give them bonus points for creativity. Their interpretations of ancient star maps carved in stone are interesting, but not convincing. But they get double bonus by combining it with the Younger Dryas cooling event.

Wombat-socho is back on schedule with "Rule 5 Sunday: Formal Affairs".

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