Are granddad’s holiday stories lulling you to sleep? Jazz things up with new stories about ancient humans to one-up him!
Here at Cosmos, we really dig archaeology. Take a look at some of the best stories about human evolution from 2021.
Neanderthals were capable of speech
A long-running study from an international team of researchers demonstrated that Neanderthals were able to hear and process speech, using CT scanning to reconstruct the ear structures of Neanderthals, and figure out how much of the bandwidth of modern human speech sounds they could hear. Given that Neanderthals possessed this bandwidth but more distant ancestors did not, the authors concluded that Neanderthals evolved and possessed the ability to speak.
The study is perhaps the first conclusive evidence that Neanderthals must have possessed human-like speech abilities.
Denisova DNA yielded more evolutionary secrets
Archaeologists were able to piece together the extraordinarily complex story of occupation of Denisova Cave, in Russian Siberia, where the first specimens of our extinct hominin relatives, the Denisovans, were found.
Published in a paper in the journal Nature, the study provides a timeline of occupation of this important archaeological site that deepens understanding of the early hominin groups living in Eurasia during the most recent ice ages.
Humans got a new relative: the ‘Dragon Man’
A remarkably well-preserved skull, known as the Harbin cranium, was analysed, leading researchers to conclude that it belonged to a new human species – Homo longi or ‘Dragon Man’ – that may have been a closer living relative to us than even the Neanderthal.
Scientists unearthed the oldest human burial in Africa
Scientists unveiled the oldest evidence of human burial in Africa; the body of a three-year-old child, who was placed gently on their side in a purpose-dug grave some 78,000 years ago. The discovery shed light on the development of social behaviours in humanity’s ancient past.
First ancient DNA from the gateway between Asia and Australia
A team of researchers from Indonesia and Australia announced the first ever preserved ancient human DNA from Wallacea – the cluster of islands spanning parts of Indonesia, Borneo and Papua New Guinea, which was the seafaring gateway that allowed Australia to be populated millennia ago.
The find was particularly remarkable considering genetic material tends to degrade quickly in the humid tropics. Analysis of the DNA revealed that the woman the DNA belonged to lived some 7,200 years ago, and was related to both Aboriginal Australians and a mysterious, never-before-seen genetic group of Asian origin.
Six-million-year-old Cretan footprints challenge beliefs on human evolution
Last but not least, an evolutionary mystery. A team of researchers analysed a set of ancient footprints pressed into rocks on the Mediterranean island of Crete some six million years ago, and concluded that they belonged to a bipedal hominin. If true, their contentious conclusion would rewrite what we know about our evolutionary origins.
Read science facts, not fiction...
There’s never been a more important time to explain the facts, cherish evidence-based knowledge and to showcase the latest scientific, technological and engineering breakthroughs. Cosmos is published by The Royal Institution of Australia, a charity dedicated to connecting people with the world of science. Financial contributions, however big or small, help us provide access to trusted science information at a time when the world needs it most. Please support us by making a donation or purchasing a subscription today.