Blogs about hominins

Skullcap of Ngandong Homo erectus

An article published in the journal “Nature” reports a research on the last known population of Homo erectus. A team of researchers carried out a new series of dating of fossil fragments and sediments present in the Ngandong site, on the island of Java, where the specimens attributed to that species were discovered concluding that that population lived between 108,000 and 117,000 years ago. Previous dating provided very variable results, a precise result can help understand the history of little men in Southeast Asia. That population could actually be the result of an interbreeding between Homo sapiens and another species of hominins, explaining some of its peculiar characteristics.

Artist's portrait of a Neanderthal (Image courtesy Petr Kratochvil (CC0))

An article published in the journal “PLOS ONE” reports a study on the causes of Neanderthal extinction based on models created using data on hunter-gatherer populations as parameters. A team of researchers led by Dr. Krist Vaesen concluded that small populations were vulnerable to problems such as inbreeding, the Allee effects that predict a negative impact on individuals’ fitness in reduced populations and demographic fluctuations, factors that over about 10,000 years caused the extinction of this species.

An almost complete skull of Australopithecus anamensis offers new clues to the evolution of hominins

Two articles published in the journal “Nature” report different aspects of a research on a fossil skull of Australopithecus anamensis, the oldest species of its genus and considered the ancestor of Australopithecus afarensis, the species to which the individual nicknamed Lucy belongs. Yohannes Haile-Selassie, Stephanie Melillo and several colleagues in the two teams studied an almost complete fossil skull, which makes it by far the best preserved one among the ones attributed to that species. It offers new information on the history of australopithecines and therefore of the evolution of hominins which led to that of human beings.

The fossil skull of Chilecebus carrascoensis (Photo N. Wong and M. Ellison/© AMNH)

An article published in the journal “Science Advances” reports a study of the known fossil skull of Chilecebus carrascoensis, an extinct monkey that lived about 20 million years ago, in the Miocene period, in today’s Chile. A team of researchers subjected it to a high resolution CT scan to obtain a 3D digital reconstruction that allowed to study its internal structure and therefore the brain’s structure. The new information on this primitive relative of monkeys and hominids that evolved later suggest that the evolution of these primates’ brains was non-linear and that it grew several times independently.

Neanderthal skull from Forbes' Quarry

An article published in the journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” reports a genetic analysis of the remains of two Neanderthals discovered in Gibraltar in 1848 and 1926. A team of researchers coordinated by the National Museum of History in London and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA) in Leipzig carried out the extraction of DNA from the remains of those two individuals, succeeding in establishing that the skull discovered in 1848 in the Forbes’ Quarry site belonged to a female while the one discovered in 1926 and nicknamed Devil’s Tower Child was a male. The female was more closely related to the Neanderthals who lived in Europe between 60,000 and 120,000 years ago than to those who lived in Spain 49,000 years ago.