News in Brief: Highlights from the American Association of Physical Anthropologists annual meeting, Portland, Ore., April 11-14http://www.sciencene...e.,_April_11-14
Stone Age finds in Southeast Asia, chat among Neandertal ancestors and early cannibalism
By Bruce Bower
Web edition : Tuesday, April 17th, 2012Stone Age Southeast Asians
Researchers have discovered the oldest known human remains in Southeast Asia, a partial human skull dating to at least 40,000 years ago. Excavations at Tam Pa Ling cave in northern Laos produced a dozen pieces from a Stone Age person’s skull, including a skullcap and a lower jaw, anthropologist Laura Shackelford of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign reported April 14. Small front teeth, a rounded brain case and other traits identify the reassembled fossil as a modern Homo sapiens
, Shackelford said. The find supports proposals that at least some human migrations out of Africa around 100,000 years ago followed a southern route that led to Southeast Asia.Neandertal ancestors speak up
A proposed ancestor of Neandertals and Homo sapiens
that lived around 500,000 years ago in a mountainous part of what’s now Spain may have had the gift of gab. A new analysis of a Homo heidelbergensis
individual’s skull and upper spine bones, as well as a horseshoe-shaped neck bone called the hyoid, suggests that this long-extinct species could have produced speech sounds, paleontologist Ignacio Martínez of the University of Alcalá, Spain, reported on April 12. Humanlike inner ear bones made it possible for H. heidelbergensis
to hear conversational speech, Martinez said. “We don’t know if H. heidelbergensis
spoke, but it possessed anatomical characteristics for efficient production and perception of speech,” he concluded.Cannibals and cave graves
Neandertals cannibalized three of their own and buried them in a European cave around 40,000 years ago, anthropologist Hélène Rougier of California State University Northridge reported April 14. Rougier’s team discovered 75 Neandertal bones and teeth that had been stored with animal bones following excavations at Belgium’s Goyet cave more than a century ago. Incisions on the Neandertal fossils match those on bones from animals butchered by Neandertals at the cave. Goyet Neandertals may have been consumed as part of a ritual or purely for food, Rougier proposed. Evidence suggests that simple burials occurred at Goyet and nearby caves visited by Neandertals, she said.http://www.sciencene...ng_gets_weirder
Ancient walking gets weirder
Fossils from two human ancestors suggest diversity in gait, stance
By Bruce Bower
Web edition : Monday, April 16th, 2012
new analysis of 1.5-million-year-old fossil footprints uncovered at Kenya’s Ileret site suggests that they were made by a human ancestor with a gait different than that of modern humans.Courtesy of Matthew Bennett/Bournemouth Univ.PORTLAND, Ore.
— The simple act of walking continues to take strange detours among ancient human ancestors.
To wit, 1.5 million-year-old footprints excavated in Africa, initially thought to reflect a thoroughly modern walking style, were instead made by individuals that walked differently than people today do, researchers reported April 13 at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. And findings presented April 12 at the meeting revealed the surprisingly apelike qualities of foot fossils from a 2 million-year-old species that some researchers regard as the root of the Homo
These reports come on the heels of evidence that a previously unknown member of the human evolutionary family 3.4 million years ago possessed a gorillalike grasping big toe and an ungainly stride (SN Online: 3/28/12
Depth measurements of the African footprints, discovered at Kenya’s Ileret site, differ at 10 landmarks from the footprints of people who live in that area today, said graduate student Kevin Hatala of George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
“We can infer that the ancient Ileret individuals had a normal, functional gait, but they may have walked differently than we do,” Hatala said. For now, it’s uncertain just how these hominids walked and whether they belonged to Homo erectus
, a possibly direct human ancestor, or to the side-branch species Paranthropus boisei
Technologies that produce 3D images of footprints preserved in different types of soil should soon yield insights into how hominids walked at Ileret and at other ancient sites, commented graduate student Sarita Morse of the University of Liverpool in England.
Hatala and his colleagues compared five preserved Ileret footprints to those of 38 Daasanach herders in Kenya, none of whom wear shoes. Participants walked across a pressure pad before walking across moistened Ileret soil that approximated the conditions under which the ancient footprints were made. Pressure measurements at 10 spots across the bottom of the foot closely corresponded to depth measurements at the same spots on volunteers’ footprints.
Disparities in depth measurements between Daasanach and ancient Ileret footprints signaled that the hominids walked unlike people today do.
Other comparisons to Daasanach footprints indicated that two sets of Ileret tracks were made by individuals who were walking, not running, and who stood about 5 feet, 6 inches tall and weighed 110 pounds. That’s in the general size range of Daasanach people today.
Meanwhile, new analyses of foot bones from two partial Australopithecus sediba
skeletons, excavated in South Africa (SN: 5/8/10, p. 14
), show that this hominid had an upwardly curved, mobile mid-foot built for tree-climbing, reported anthropologist Jeremy DeSilva of Boston University. Previous work had identified thin, apelike heels combined with humanlike ankles and arches in these fossil skeletons.
“This is a really weird foot,” DeSilva said. “Diversity in upright stances must have extended for a long time during hominid evolution.”
Edited by Kings Canyon, 19 April 2012 - 06:26 AM.