50,000-Year-old Social Network Across Africa

Humans are social creatures, but little is known about when, how, and why different populations connected in the past. Answering these questions is crucial for interpreting the biological and cultural diversity that we see in human populations today. DNA is a powerful tool for studying genetic interactions between populations, but it can’t address any cultural exchanges within these ancient meetings. Now, scientists from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History have turned to an unexpected source of information—ostrich eggshell beads—to shed light on ancient social networks. In a new study published in Nature, researchers Drs. Jennifer Miller and Yiming Wang report 50,000-years of population connection and isolation, driven by changing rainfall patterns, in southern and eastern Africa.

— source Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History | Dec 20, 2021

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How Did Neanderthals and Other Ancient Humans Learn to Count?

Some 60,000 years ago, in what is now western France, a Neanderthal picked up a chunk of hyena femur and a stone tool and began to work. When the task was complete, the bone bore nine notches that were strikingly similar and approximately parallel, as if they were meant to signify something.

Francesco d’Errico, an archaeologist at the University of Bordeaux, France, has an idea about the marks. He has examined many ancient carved artefacts during his career, and he thinks that the hyena bone—found in the 1970s at the site of Les Pradelles near Angoulême—stands out as unusual. Although ancient carved artefacts are often interpreted as artworks, the Les Pradelles bone seems to have been more functional, says D’Errico.

He argues that it might encode numerical information. And if that’s correct, anatomically modern humans might not have been alone in developing a system of numerical notations: Neanderthals might have begun to do so, too.

When D’Errico published his ideas in 2018, he was venturing into territory that few scientists had explored: the ancient roots of numbers. “The

— source nature.com | Colin Barras | Aug 26, 2021

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Age of hotly debated skull from early human Homo erectus determined

A new study verifies the age and origin of one of the oldest specimens of Homo erectus — a very successful early human who roamed the world for nearly 2 million years. In doing so, the researchers also found two new specimens at the site — likely the earliest pieces of the Homo erectus skeleton yet discovered. Details are published today in the journal Nature Communications.

“Homo erectus is the first hominin that we know about that has a body plan more like our own and seemed to be on its way to being more human-like,” said Ashley Hammond, an assistant curator in the American Museum of Natural History’s Division of Anthropology and the lead author of the new study. “It had longer lower limbs than upper limbs, a torso shaped more like ours, a larger cranial capacity than earlier hominins, and is associated with a tool industry — it’s a faster, smarter hominin than Australopithecus and earliest Homo.”

In 1974, scientists at the East Turkana site in Kenya found one of the oldest pieces of evidence for H. erectus: a small skull fragment that

— source American Museum of Natural History | Apr 13, 2021

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Men experience more emotional pain during breakups

A new study of online relationship support finds that men tend to experience emotional pain more than women when their relationship takes a turn for the worse. An international team of psychologists led by researchers at Lancaster University conducted the first-ever “big data” analysis of relationship problems. The study began as an attempt to create a map of the most common relationship problems experienced by people outside of clinical and counselling settings. Using natural language processing methods, the team analyzed the demographic and psychological characteristics of over 184,000 people who posted their relationship problems to an anonymous online forum. The researchers were then able to statistically determine the most common themes that came up across each post, creating a “map” of the most common relationship problems.

— source Lancaster University | Nov 1, 2021

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People have shaped Earth’s ecology for at least 12,000 years, mostly sustainably

New research published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) shows that land use by human societies has reshaped ecology across most of Earth’s land for at least 12,000 years. The research team, from over ten institutions around the world, revealed that the main cause of the current biodiversity crisis is not human destruction of uninhabited wildlands, but rather the appropriation, colonization, and intensified use of lands previously managed sustainably.

The new data overturn earlier reconstructions of global land use history, some of which indicated that most of Earth’s land was uninhabited even as recently as 1500 CE. Further, this new PNAS study supports the argument that an essential way to end Earth’s current biodiversity crisis is to empower the environmental stewardship of Indigenous peoples and local communities across the planet.

“Our work shows that most areas depicted as ‘untouched,’ ‘wild,’ and ‘natural’ are actually areas with long histories of human inhabitation and use,” says UMBC’s Erle Ellis,

— source University of Maryland Baltimore County | Apr 19, 2021

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Milk enabled massive steppe migration

The long-distance migrations of early Bronze Age pastoralists in the Eurasian steppe have captured widespread interest. But the factors behind their remarkable spread have been heavily debated by archaeologists. Now a new study in Nature provides clues regarding a critical component of the herders’ lifestyle that was likely instrumental to their success: dairying.

From the Xiongnu to the Mongols, the pastoralist populations of the Eurasian steppe have long been a source of fascination. Amongst the earliest herding groups in this region were the Yamnaya, Bronze Age pastoralists who began expanding out of the Pontic-Caspian steppe more than 5000 years ago. These Bronze Age migrations resulted in gene flow across vast areas, ultimately linking pastoralist populations in Scandinavia with groups that expanded into Siberia.

Just how and why these pastoralists travelled such extraordinary distances in the Bronze Age has remained a mystery. Now a new study led by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany has revealed a critical clue and it might come as a surprise. It appears that the Bronze Age migrations coincided with

— source Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History | Sep 15, 2021

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The last battle of Anne of Brittany

A multidisciplinary team of researchers from INRAP, CNRS, the universities of Ottawa, Rennes 2, Toulouse III Paul Sabatier and the Max Planck Institute has recognised the soldiers of the last battles of the siege of Rennes in 1491. These are the only witnesses of the forces involved in the conflict between the armies of Duchess Anne of Brittany and the King of France. This research and its methodology are currently the subject of two articles in the PLOS ONE review.

The excavation of the Jacobins convent in Rennes

From 2011 to 2013, a team from INRAP excavated the convent of the Jacobins, site of the future congress centre in Rennes Métropole, giving rise to numerous scientific publications, particularly on Louise de Quengo (a noble Breton naturally mummified in her lead coffin), a musical score engraved on a slate and even the diet in Rennes during the Ancient Régime. The presence of two mass graves, containing more than thirty subjects, remained to be elucidated. These pits are

— source University of Ottawa | May 5, 2021

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The oldest human burial in Africa

Panga ya Saidi has been an important site for human origins research since excavations began in 2010 as part of a long-term partnership between archaeologists from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (Jena, Germany) and the National Museums of Kenya (Nairobi). Portions of the child’s bones were first found during excavations at Panga ya Saidi in 2013, but it wasn’t until 2017 that the small pit feature containing the bones was fully exposed. They nicknamed the youngster ‘Mtoto,’ meaning ‘child’ in Swahili. Luminescence dating securely places Mtoto’s at 78,000 years ago, making it the oldest known human burial in Africa. burials of Neanderthals and modern humans in Eurasia range back as far as 120,000 years. The Panga ya Saidi burial shows that inhumation of the dead is a cultural practice shared by Homo sapiens and Neanderthals.

— source Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History | May 5, 2021

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Ancient skeletal hand could reveal evolutionary secrets

Evolutionary expert Charles Darwin and others recognized a close evolutionary relationship between humans, chimps and gorillas based on their shared anatomies, raising some big questions: how are humans related to other primates, and exactly how did early humans move around? Research by a Texas A&M University professor may provide some answers.

Thomas Cody Prang, assistant professor of anthropology, and colleagues examined the skeletal remains of Ardipithecus ramidus (“Ardi”), dated to 4.4 million years old and found in Ethiopia. One of Ardi’s hands was exceptionally well-preserved.

The researchers compared the shape of Ardi’s hand to hundreds of other hand specimens representing recent humans, apes and monkeys (measured from bones in museum collections around the world) to make comparisons about the kind of locomotor behavior used by the earliest hominins (fossil human relatives).

— source Texas A&M University | Feb 25, 2021

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Neanderthal and early modern human stone tool culture co-existed for over 100,000 years

Research from the University of Kent’s School of Anthropology and Conservation has discovered that one of the earliest stone tool cultures, known as the Acheulean, likely persisted for tens of thousands of years longer than previously thought.

The Acheulean was estimated to have died out around 200,000 years ago but the new findings suggest it may have persisted for much longer, creating over 100,000 years of overlap with more advanced technologies produced by Neanderthals and early modern humans.

The research team, led by Dr Alastair Key (Kent) alongside Dr David Roberts (Kent) and Dr Ivan Jaric (Biology Centre of the Czech Academy of Sciences), made the discovery whilst studying stone tool records from different regions across the world. Using statistical techniques new to archaeological science, the archaeologists and conservation experts were able to reconstruct the end of the Acheulean period and re-map the archaeological record.

Previously, a more rapid shift between the earlier Acheulean stone tool designs often

— source University of Kent | Mar 1, 2021

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