Blogs about hominins

Little Foot's skull

An article published in the journal “Scientific Reports” reports a study on the characteristics of the skull of the specimen of Australopithecus nicknamed “Little Foot” that offers information on this species’ life. A team of researchers from Wits University led by Dr Amélie Beaudet examined a 3D reproduction of the fossil generated by subjecting it to a high resolution micro-CT scan. The presence of the first cervical vertebra has a crucial role in the biology of vertebrates and the Little Foot’s one is in its place offering information on the possible head movements for this species of Australopithecus, different from those possible for modern humans.

Entrance of the Chagyrskaya Cave (Photo courtesy K. Kolobova/Institute of Archeology and Ethnography of the Siberian Branch of the RAS)

An article published in the journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” reports a study on Neanderthal migrations to Siberia. A team of researchers excavated the Chagyrskaya Cave in the Altai Mountains in Siberia, finding 90,000 artifacts and 74 Neanderthal fossils along with bone tools, animal and plants remains in deposits dated between 49,000 and 59,000 years ago. The tools have distinctive characteristics remarkably similar to those of Neanderthal artifacts from Eastern Europe, while nothing like this has been found at other sites in the Altai Mountains occupied by Neanderthals. Such archaeological evidence, combined with genetic studies on well-preserved Neanderthal fossils, indicate that there were at least two migrations of these hominins to Siberia, the first one over 100,000 years ago.

Evolutionary tree showing interbreedings between hominins

An article published in the journal “Science Advances” reports the traces of an interbreeding between the ancestors of Neanderthals and Denisovans with a population belonging to another species of hominins called superarchaics because they probably separated from other humans about 2 million years ago. A team of researchers led by anthropologist Alan Rogers studied the ways in which mutations are shared between various populations of Homo sapiens, Neanderthals and Denisovans, concluding that certain sharing patterns indicate that there were five episodes of interbreeding between species including the one occurred over 700,000 years ago between superarchaic hominins and ancestors of Neanderthals and Denisovans.

Demography of some hominin lineages

An article published in the journal “Science Advances” reports a genetic research that offers evidence that some West African populations inherited a portion of their genes from an unknown species of hominins. Arun Durvasula and Sriram Sankararaman of UCLA made a genetic comparison of the DNA of 405 African individuals with those available obtained from Neanderthal and Denisovan bones, discovering genetic characteristics that can be attributed to a species other than these.

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.