These pages use a fairly conservative naming system. In recent years a number of changes have been suggested in the classification of hominid fossils.Many people are now using the genus name Paranthropus, originally given to robustus, to refer to the robust australopithecines (robustus, boisei, and aethiopicus). This change makes sense if all these species form a clade (all of the species descended from a common ancestor) but it is not yet known if this is the case.Here is a selection of recent discoveries and other developments in paleoanthropology: Dec 2010: Most of the nuclear genome of the Denisovan fossil has now been published (Reich et al. 2010), and shows it to have been more closely related to Neandertals than modern humans. The Denisovan genome also seems to have made about a 5% contribution to the genome of modern Melanesians! Dec 2010: A new paper (Green et al. 2010) Apr 2010: Two partial skeletons assigned to a new species, Australopithecus sediba, were discovered at Malapa in South Africa in 2008 (Berger et al. 2010). It is claimed by its finders to be transitional between A. africanus and Homo and a possible candidate for the ancestor of Homo. Oct 2009: A partial skeleton of Ardipithecus ramidus which was discovered in late 1994 was finally released after 15 years of excavation, restoration and analysis (White et al. 2009; Gibbons 2009). It was bipedal on the ground, though not as well-adapted to it as the australopithecines, and quadrupedal in the trees. The journal Science has published a collection of 11 papers on the skeleton and its environment. Sep 2006: An exceptionally complete skeleton of a young Australopithecus afarensis child, nicknamed 'Selam', has been discovered in Ethiopia. It seems to contain a mixture of bipedal and arboreal features. (Alemseged 2006, Wood 2006) Mar 2005: A newly-discovered partial skeleton from Mille in Ethiopia is claimed to be the world's oldest bipedal hominid. The fossil is about 4 million years old and has not yet been classified or published in the scientific literature, though it is said to fall between Ardipithecus ramidus and Australopithecus afarensis. Feb 2005: Two skulls found near the Omo River in Ethiopia in 1967 by Richard Leakey and thought to be about 130,000 years old have now been dated at 195,000 years, the oldest date known for a modern human skull (McDougall et al. 2005). The Omo I skull is fully modern, while Omo II has some archaic features. Oct 2004: A new species of hominid, Homo floresiensis, has been discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores. The most complete fossil is that of an almost complete skull and partial skeleton of a female who appears to be about a meter tall, with an astonishingly small brain size of 380cc. The floresiensis fossils date from between 38,000 and 18,000 and are thought to be a dwarf form of Homo erectus. (Brown et al. 2004, Morwood et al. 2004, Lahr and Foley 2004) Jul 2004: Fragments of a small H. erectus skull, OL 45500, have been discovered at Olorgesailie in Kenya. The skull is an adult or near-adult, and about 0.95 million years old. The brain size can not be measured directly, but from the size of the bones the skull is similar in size to the two larger Dmanisi skulls (D2280 and D2282) and so probably in the 650-800 cc range, which is small for erectus. (Potts et al. 2004, Schwartz 2004) (See also a New Scientist article, Petite skull reopens human ancestry debate, and my comments) Mar 2004: A new paper contains details of four new mtDNA sequences which have been retrieved from Neandertal fossils (Serre et al., 2004). This brings the number of known Neandertal mtDNA sequences to eight, all of which are closely related, and considerably different from all modern human mtDNA sequences. Mar 2004: Some fragmentary fossils discovered in Ethiopia and dating between 5.2 and 5.8 million years old were originally assigned to a new subspecies, Ardipithecus ramidus kadabba. Following further study, the finders have decided that the differences between them and other fossils justify assigning them to a new species, Ardipithecus kadabba. (Haile-Selassie et al. 2004, Begun 2004) Jun 2003: Three new skulls from Herto, Ethiopia, are the oldest known modern human fossils, at 160,000 yrs. The discoverers have assigned them to a new subspecies, Homo sapiens idaltu, and say that they are anatomically and chronologically intermediate between older archaic humans and more recent fully modern humans. Their age and anatomy is cited as strong evidence for the emergence of modern humans from Africa, and against the multiregional theory which argues that modern humans evolved in many places around the world. (White et al. 2003, Stringer 2003) Apr 2003: A new study has claimed an age of over 4 million years for the australopithecine skeleton Little Foot from South Africa. If true, this would make it one of the oldest known australopithecine fossils. (Partridge et al. 2003) Feb 2003: OH 65, a fossil from Olduvai Gorge consisting of an upper jaw and part of the lower face, may cause a reevaluation of the species Homo habilis. (Blumenschine et al. 2003, Tobias 2003) Jul 2002: A fossil skull discovered in Chad, between 6 and 7 million years old, has been assigned to a new genus and species, Sahelanthropus tchadensis. The skull is small and apelike, but with some features associated with hominids. (Brunet et al. 2002, Wood 2002) Jul 2002: The fossil skull D2700 discovered at Dmanisi, Georgia, is the smallest and most primitive hominid skull ever discovered outside of Africa, and although tentatively assigned to Homo erectus, it and two other skulls and three lower jaws appear in many ways to be intermediate between it and H. habilis. (Vekua et al. 2002, Balter and Gibbons 2002) These specimens have since been allocated to Homo georgicus (Gabunia et al. 2002) Mar 2002: According to its discoverers, a new Homo erectus skull from Bouri in Ethiopia, about 1 million years old, indicates that Homo ergaster should not be considered a separate species from Homo erectus (Asfaw et al. 2002) Dec 2001: A new study claims that Homo erectus had rapid dental growth rates and had not yet developed the slow growth rates of modern humans. (Dean et al. 2001, Moggi-Cecchi 2001) Jul 2001: A number of fragmentary fossils discovered between 1997 and 2001, and dating from 5.2 to 5.8 million years old, have been assigned to a new subspecies, Ardipithecus ramidus kadabba. (Haile-Selassie 2001) (P.S. this taxon was later named as a species, Ar. kadabba, in March 2004) Mar 2001: A 3.6 million year old fossil from Kenya, WT 40000, has been assigned to a new species and genus, Kenyanthropus platyops. (Leakey et al 2001, Lieberman 2001). Feb 2001: A French-Kenyan team has found a fossil claimed to be both considerably older than any other hominid (at 6 million years) and more advanced than the australopithecines. The fossil, originally nicknamed "Millennium Man", has been named Orrorin tugenensis, and is claimed by its finders to be a direct ancestor of humans, relegating the australopithecines to a side branch (Senut et al. 2001). These claims are being treated with caution so far (Aiello and Collard 2001). Jan 2001: A fossil of a 3.4 million year old hominid, probably belonging to a child, has been discovered in Ethiopia. Jan 2001: A new study has sequenced mitochondrial DNA from the anatomically modern Mungo Man fossil from Australia and found it to be outside the range of modern human mtDNA. The authors have claimed this is strong evidence for the multiregional model of human evolution, as opposed to the currently dominant Out Of Africa model (Adcock et al. 2001). However, other other experts have challenged this. Cooper et al. (2001) have published a rebuttal of this claim. Mar 2000: Mitochondrial DNA from a second Neandertal specimen (a baby from Mezmaiskaya Cave in Russia) has been successfully sequenced. Like the first specimen, it is well outside the range of variation of modern humans (Ovchinnikov et al. 2000, Höss 2000). Analysis of the mtDNA of a third Neandertal from Vindija in Croatia also confirms the earlier findings. (Krings et al. 2000) Apr 2000: Two Homo erectus crania and a mandible have been discovered at Dmanisi in the Republic of Georgia. They have been dated at about 1.7 million years. (Gabunia et al. 2000, Balter and Gibbons 2000) The complete skull of a female Australopithecus robustus has been discovered at Drimolen in South Africa, along with the lower jaw of a male robustus found only a few inches away. (Keyser 2000) Apr 1999: A new species, Australopithecus garhi, has been named from fossils found near Bouri in Ethiopia, by a joint Ethiopian, American and Japanese team. This small-brained, large-toothed hominid was found near antelope bones which had been butchered by stone tools (Asfaw et al. 1999). Apr 1999: According to Neandertal expert Erik Trinkaus, the 24500-year-old skeleton of a young boy found in Portugal contains characteristics of both modern human and Neandertals, and is evidence that the two groups interbred (Duarte et al. 1999). Oct 1998: Although it has not yet been fully excavated, it seems that virtually an entire australopithecine skeleton has been discovered by Ronald Clarke at Sterkfontein in South Africa. This skeleton belongs to the same individual as the "Little Foot" set of four foot bones discovered by Clarke in 1994 (see below). An article by geographer Jerome Dobson (1998) suggests that Neandertal features are caused by an iodine deficiency, or by a genetic difference in the thyroid. (Diseases associated with low-iodine diets are goiter and cretinism.) Expect this controversial claim to receive skeptical scrutiny from anthropologists. Jul 1998: Analysis of new A. africanus fossils from Sterkfontein in South Africa suggests that the forelimb and hindlimb proportions of africanus were more ape-like than in the earlier A. afarensis. (McHenry and Berger 1998) A well-preserved Homo cranium discovered in Eritrea is about 1 million years old, and contains a mixture of erectus and sapiens characteristics. (Abbate et al. 1998) A new A. boisei skull is one of the most complete known, and the first known with an associated cranium and lower jaw. It also has a surprising amount of variability from other boisei skulls, which may have implications for how hominid fossils are classified. (Suwa et al. 1997; Delson 1997) Jul 1997: In a stunning technical achievement, it appears that a portion of Neandertal mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) has been successfully extracted for the first time. It differs by a surprising amount from equivalent modern human DNA, suggesting that Neandertals were not particularly closely related to any modern humans, and supporting (but certainly not proving) claims that they were a different species. (Krings et al. 1997; Kahn and Gibbons 1997) Some Homo fossils found recently in Spain, and dated at over 780,000 years, are the oldest confirmed European hominids. It is not yet clear what species they belong to, although the discoverers have named them Homo antecessor. (Bermudez de Castro et al. 1997; Kunzig R. 1997) The oldest known stone tools have been found at Gona, Ethiopia, in sediments dated at between 2.5 and 2.6 million years old. The makers are unknown, but may be early Homo. (Semaw et al. 1997) An upper jaw belonging to the genus Homo and dated at over 2.3 million years old has been found in Ethiopia, associated with stone tools. (Kimbel et al. 1996) Recent studies claim that some Javan skulls are between 51,000 and 27,000 years old, far more recent than previously thought. If confirmed, it means that Homo erectus and sapiens co-existed in this region for some time. (Swisher et al. 1996) A partial jaw found in Chad (Central Africa) greatly extends the geographical range in which australopithecines are known to have lived. The specimen, which has been nicknamed Abel, has since been named Australopithecus bahrelghazali. (Brunet et al. 1995) Four australopithecine foot bones dated at around 3.5 million years are the oldest hominid fossils yet found in South Africa. They seem to be adapted to bipedalism, but have an intriguing mixture of ape and human features (Clarke and Tobias 1995). Since then, 8 more foot and leg bones have been found from the same individual, who has been nicknamed Little Foot. Recent finds at Zafarraya in Spain suggest that Neandertals may have survived longer than previously thought, perhaps as recently as 27,000 years ago. Two hominid teeth in a small jaw fragment found in China and dated at around 1.9 million years are claimed as evidence that Homo arrived in Asia earlier than currently thought. 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Earlier than 200,000 BC
Homo ergaster: is an extinct species (or subspecies) of hominid that lived in eastern and southern Africa from the end of the Pliocene epoch to the early Pleistocene, about 1.8-1.3 million years ago. There is still disagreement on the subject of the classification, ancestry, and progeny of H. ergaster, but it is now widely thought (though not agreed) to be the direct ancestor of later hominids such as Homo heidelbergensis, Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis rather than Asian erectus. It is one of the earliest members of the genus Homo, possibly descended from, or sharing a common ancestor with, Homo habilis.
Homo heidelbergensis: (“Heidelberg Man”), is an extinct species of the genus Homo which may be the direct ancestor of both Homo neanderthalensis in Europe and Homo sapiens. The best evidence found for these hominids date between 600,000 and 400,000 years ago. H. heidelbergensis stone tool technology was very close to that of the Acheulean tools used by Homo erectus.
Homo erectus: is an extinct species of hominid that originated in Africa—and spread as far as China and Java—from the end of the Pliocene epoch to the later Pleistocene: about 1.8-.3 million years ago. There is still disagreement on the subject of the classification, ancestry, and progeny of H. erectus, with two major alternative hypotheses: erectus may be another name for Homo ergaster, and therefore the direct ancestor of later hominids such as Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neanderthalensis, and Homo sapiens; or it may be an Asian species distinct from African ergaster. Originally migrated from Africa during the Early Pleistocene, possibly as a result of the operation of the Saharan pump, around 2.0 million years ago, and dispersed throughout much of the Old World. Fossilized remains 1.8 and 1.0 million years old have been found in Africa (e.g., Lake Turkanaand Olduvai Gorge), Europe (Georgia, Spain), Indonesia (e.g., Sangiran and Trinil), Vietnam, and China (e.g., Shaanxi).
Neanderthal: Also spelled Neandertal, is an extinct member of the Homo genus that is known from Pleistocene specimens found in Europe and parts of western and central Asia. Neanderthals are either classified as a subspecies of humans (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis) or as a separate species (Homo neanderthalensis). The first proto-Neanderthal traits appeared in Europe as early as 600,000–350,000 years ago. Proto-Neanderthal traits are occasionally grouped to another phenetic ‘species’, Homo heidelbergensis, or a migrant form, Homo rhodesiensis. By 130,000 years ago, complete Neanderthal characteristics had appeared. These characteristics then disappeared in Asia by 50,000 +- years ago, and in Europe by 25,000 to 30,000 years ago.
Below added 01-23-2011 “A team of biologists has reported that in the first detailed genetic analysis of the Neanderthal genome, they have found evidence that Neanderthals mated with some modern humans and left their imprint in the human genome
The biologists were led by Svante Paabo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. By comparing the Neanderthal genome with those of various present day humans, the team concluded that about 1 percent to 4 percent of the genome of non-Africans today is derived from Neanderthals.” From: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/07/science/07neanderthal.html
Humans/Homo sapiens: are bipedal primates (Latin: “wise man” or “knowing man”) in Hominidae, the great ape family. They are the only surviving members of the genus Homo. Humans have a highly developed brain, capable of abstract reasoning, language, introspection, and problem solving. This mental capability, combined with an erect body carriage that frees the arms for manipulating objects, has allowed humans to make far greater use of tools than any other species. Mitochondrial DNA and fossil evidence indicates that modern humans originated in Africa about 200,000 years ago.
Also see Homo habilis Here
500,000: The Peking Man Site, excavations in the early1920′s revealed evidence of human habitation from 500,000 to perhaps 680,000 years ago. The cave was excavated from 1927-37 yielding 200 human fossils (from 40 individuals) Homo erectus, more than 10,000 pieces of stoneware, several cinder layers indicating fire use in early man, as well as animal fossils from 200 separate species.
200,000 BC: Humans are bipedal primates belonging to the species Homo sapiens in Hominidae, the great ape family. They are the only surviving members of the genus Homo. Humans have a highly developed brain, capable of abstract reasoning, language, introspection, and problem solving. This mental capability, combined with an erect body carriage that frees the arms for manipulating objects, has allowed humans to make far greater use of tools than any other species. Mitochondrial DNA and fossil evidence indicates that modern humans originated in Africa about 200,000 years ago. Evidence from archaeogenetics accumulating since the 1990s has lent strong support to the “out-of-Africa” scenario, and has marginalized the competing multi-regional hypothesis, which proposed that modern humans evolved, at least in part, from independent hominid populations.
75,000-72,000 BC Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia is the location of the largest volcanic eruption in the history of the world. Eruptions have occurred in 840,000 BC, 700,000 BC, and 75,000+- BC. The 75,000 eruption ejected 2,800 Km3. of matter Discovery of common stone tools at Jwakapuram in southern India were discovered above and below the ash deposited as a result of Toba. Possibility that this volcano eruption drove down the population of the earth to about 10,000 humans…one of two bottle-necks in our prehistoric history.
From the Oxford Journal Molecular Biology and Evolution this article: “Population Bottlenecks and Pleistocene Human Evolution.” http://mbe.oxfordjournals.org/content/17/1/2.full 03-03-2011
50,000 years ago: Around 50,000 years ago there was a marked increase in the diversity of human artifacts. For the first time in Africa, bone artifacts and art appear in the archeological record. The first evidence of human fishing is also noted, from artifacts in places such as Blombos cave in South Africa. Firstly among the artifacts of Africa, archeologists found they could differentiate and classify those of less than 50,000 years into many different categories, such as projectile points, engraving tools, knife blades, and drilling and piercing tools.
These new stone-tool types have been described as being distinctly differentiated from each other, as if each tool had a specific purpose. 3,000 to 4,000 years later, this tool technology spread with people migrating to Europe. The new technology generated a population explosion of modern humans and possibly led to the extinction of the Neanderthals. The invaders, commonly referred to as the Cro-Magnons, left many sophisticated stone tools, cave art and Venus figurines wherever they went Adapted from Wikipedia…03-03-2011
Old World 10000 BC
Americas 10000 BC
From the Synoptic table of the principal old world prehistoric cultures: Wikipedia
9000 to 8000 BC
Inventions and discoveries
8000 to 2500 BC
Neolithic (10,000+- BC to 3500+- BC) human settlements include:
The idea: A nice unit to use when describing earth's planetary history is periods of galactic rotation (250 million years). Rather than the usual 1 million years (MYA, "million years ago"). The resulting small numbers seem easier to understand and remember. And delightfully, geological eras pace fairly nicely at 50 megayear intervals, which is 1/5 of an orbit. So these three time frameworks reinforce each other.
Earth has circled the galaxy 18 times. The dinosaurs died out 2/5's of an orbit ago. Fish began almost 2 orbits ago. Multicellular life, about 4. This way of describing time is perhaps complimentary to the usual n million years ago.
The general idea: If one's measuring units get much smaller than the objects of interest, developing a feel for the objects requires a feel for relations among annoyingly large (representation) numbers. For instance, the Devonian period was 410 to 360 MYA, or 50 MY beginning at 410 MYA, with an earth lifetime of 4500 MY. Versus 1/5 of an orbit beginning 1.5 orbits ago, and an earth lifetime of 18 orbits.
Much of the galaxy is a spinning disk. The earth is something like 1/4 out from the center. (25 Kly) It gets around every 250 million years or so.
So we create a unit, 1 "galactic orbit" = 250 MY. Here are some comparisons we may find useful. It falls out rather nicely.
(Warning: This is a quick hack. I would be unsurprised by errors.)
The last few orbits... Nice how geologic periods match 50 megayear boundaries. (Warning: This is a quick hack. I would be unsurprised by errors.)
Really need an example which follows a single something through time... (geography, atmosphere, a critter flavor, something) and describes change by orbits and orbital fractions. Mention sensitivity to 2.5e8 estimate.
In about 45 years, temperatures on Earth will be hotter than at anytime during the past one million years, says the U.S. government's top climatologist in a new report released today.
According to the report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the planet is just two degrees shy of an average temperature of 59 degrees Fahrenheit, which is what they believe the temperature was about a million years ago.
NASA's James Hansen, along with colleagues from the University of California and Columbia University, are for the first time, marking a calendar signaling the approach of temperatures that humans have never experienced.
"Humans are now in control of the Earth's climate, for better or worse," Hansen tells ABC News.
Based on a "business as usual" scenario in which greenhouse gasses continue to rise unabated, Hansen says we'll break the million-year-old record in about 45 years. But he stresses we can't wait that long to cut greenhouse gas pollution, because of the decades it takes for the climate system to respond to changes.
"We need to get started now," he says. "We can't wait another decade or two to take this seriously."
Those 2 degrees the scientists are talking about may not sound like much, but what that change means is that by mid-century, the world will experience even more record heat waves, wildfires, more intense storms and flooding.
In other parts of the world, the increase may worsen drought conditions as more mountain glaciers and snow packs vanish, no longer sending water to the valleys below.
And in a highly unusual move for a scientific paper, the authors devote eight paragraphs to systematically deconstructing the assertions of a prominent science fiction novelist. In the non-fiction sections of his 2004 book "State of Fear," best-selling author Michael Crichton wrote that Hansen's climate change calculations were "wrong by 300 percent."
Hansen says Crichton misrepresented his scientific work and, adds the scientist, has done so in testimony before Congress and in a meeting with President Bush -- even though he is not a climate expert.
"He is propagating false information to the public," Hansen says.
Crichton, through a publicist, declined ABC News' request for an interview.
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