Wednesday November 22, 2017
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Supposedly extinct human species survived till last Ice Age

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(source: csmonitor)

The unearthing of a thigh bone fragment dated to be around 14,000 years old in a Southwestern Chinese cave has led researchers to believe that a human species which was supposed to be extinct a long time ago survived till about that time.

On comparison with modern human leg bone, the bone fragment was found to be similar to a particular species of humans who were thought to have vanished by the Late Pleistocene age. This age is a time-frame from the Pleistocene period, which lasted from about 2,588,000 to 11,700 years ago.

Though Homo sapiens is the only remaining human species on earth, in ancient times, they shared the earth with other human species such as the Neanderthals, Homo erectus, Homo habilis, and the Denisovans.

Some of these species intermingled with the Homo sapiens, as was seen in the presence of Denisovan genes in modern humans.

Professors Darren Curnoe and Ji Xueping (source: theconversation.com)
Professors Darren Curnoe and Ji Xueping
(source: theconversation.com)

Associate Professor Darren Curnoe from the University of New South Wales, Australia, and Professor Ji Xueping from the Yunnan Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, China, jointly led the team which made the discovery.

The 14,000-year-old bone fragment, which was found among the remains of the ‘Red Deer Cave people’ of China, despite being relatively ‘young’, shows certain characteristics similar to the most ancient members of the ‘Homo’ human genus. Thus, it can be derived that a particular human species other than the Homo sapiens survived till at least the last Ice Age.

 

Bone dating  (source: sci-news.com)
Bone dating
(source: sci-news.com)

“Until now, it was thought that archaic humans on mainland Asia had survived no later than around 100,000 years ago. So, to find a human bone that resembles very ancient humans that is only around 14,000 years old is a real surprise”, said Curnoe, also the lead author of the study, in an email to CS Monitor.

“Now, it is only one bone, so we need to be a bit careful,” added Curnoe. But if the bone fragment does represent ancient humans, it suggests that “there must also have been overlap in time between archaic and modern humans for tens of thousands of years in Southwest China.”

“We published our findings on the skull bones first because we thought they’d be the most revealing, but we were amazed by our studies of the thigh bone, which showed it to be much more primitive than the skulls seem to be,” said Professor Ji.

“The unique environment and climate of southwest China resulting from the uplift of the Tibetan Plateau may have provided a refuge for human diversity, perhaps with pre-modern groups surviving very late,” Ji added.

According to genomic research, it was the contemporary East Asians who got more DNA hand-downs from the Neanderthals, than the Europeans. The Neanderthals, who died out around 40,000 years ago, are said to have inhabited Southern and Western Europe, certain areas of Central and Northern Asia and the Middle East. This indicates that there must have been many interbreeding episodes, in various demographic scenarios covering a wide geographic area.

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Google Doodle celebrates early human ancestor Lucy

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Google has come up with a doodle today to celebrate the 41st anniversary of a historical find by paleoanthropologists working in Ethiopia—the bones of Lucy, the first female hominid.

Her bones first showed proof how the humans evolved from being apes who lived on trees to the intelligent human species who are tall and walk upright.

She was named ‘Lucy’, inspired by the song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds by Beatles. The new hominid species made itself known through a few hundred pieces of fossilized bone, which made up a large part of the skeleton. According to carbon dating, they were 3.2 million years old. Skeletons this old were mostly too incomplete or damaged. So, scientists were able to find a lot of information regarding human evolution because the bones were almost intact.

They named the species Australopithecus afarensis.

Lucy’s spine curvature and knee structure were the most important characteristics of her bone structure, which suggested she walked upright– a characteristic attributed to humans.

Lucy stood at 1.1 metres tall and weighed 27 kilograms; this was the adult size for her species. Scientists suggested that her face structure and facial features could be similar to a gorilla. Much like an ape, her skull was small. Compared to her legs, her arms were longer, but not as much as a chimpanzee’s.

She was initially thought to have had a plant-based diet, as suggested to researchers by her cone-shaped rib and the muscular structure of her jaw. But later in 2010, it became known through further findings that the Australopithecus afarensis species cooked, cut and ate meat. They were the first of their kind to take up this process.

The biggest mystery about Lucy’s bones is that her cause of death couldn’t be understood. From studying her teeth degradation, scientists stated that she was a mature, yet young female. So, old age couldn’t have been the cause of her death.

However, on her pubic bone is a tooth mark of a carnivore. Whether it contributed to the cause of death or whether the animal bit her body after her death is not clear.

Lucy’s skeleton is currently quite close to where her bones were discovered. She lies in the National Museum of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa, locked up in a safe, while a plaster replica is on exhibit. She has even toured the United States between 2007 and 2013, even though it was feared that the journey might damage her.

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The March of Progress (source: http://fooyoh.com)

The Google Doodle today is an animation of the famous ‘March of Progress’, an illustration which shows the evolution of man from apes. As a find which showed the key of our evolution today, Lucy has been put in the middle of the evolutionary process in the doodle.