Latest clues in the story of human evolution

  • May 08, 2012 | Matt van Onselen


																		“Mrs Ples” was an Australopithecus africanus that lived more than 2-million years ago in the Cradle of Humankind
Science is not static. Stand still and you will inevitably be swept aside by a new wave of scientific thought, a new hypothesis, or new evidence. The study of human evolution is no exception, and there is always new research being conducted that reveals more about the long history of our species, Homo sapiens. Here are some of the latest stories in the world of science.

Australopithecus – sound asleep on the floor?

Early hominid ancestors such as “Mrs Ples” (Australopithecus africanus) may well have slept in trees at night, and indeed this is what many scientists believe. After all, that’s what other modern apes such as chimpanzees do. Or so we thought…

According to this article, Chimp beds hint how early humans ditched tree-sleeping, new research has revealed that chimps regularly ditch the comfort of trees to sleep on the ground.

This raises the question of whether or not sleeping on the ground was a hominid pastime long before the early Homo species. This would be surprising given that sleeping in the trees has the significant advantage of avoiding prowling predators.

Now some scientists are re-evaluating how we understand the anatomy of species such as Australopithecus africanus, and what effect these sleeping arrangements may have had on hominid development.

The naked ape… until 170, 000 years ago

Current research suggests that early humans walked around naked for hundreds of thousands of years. It was only about       170, 000 years ago that humans first wore clothes.

According to this article, Lice DNA study shows humans first wore clothes 170,000 years ago,  the difficulty in making these estimations arises because clothes perish relatively easily – we don’t find ancient clothes neatly tucked away at a fossil site.

Scientists have found a helping hand in getting around the problem – clothing lice. Through meticulous genetic research, they have concluded that the first clothing lice emerged around 170, 000 years ago, and the first clothes couldn’t have appeared that much earlier.

So next time someone talks of lice as parasites, you can remind them that they also make handy lab assistants.

There’s no “i” in “team”

From nursery school onwards we’re told to work together, to work as a team, and to cooperate with our workmates. Now we know why humans have this deep desire to collaborate.

In this article, How social interaction and teamwork led to human intelligence,  it is revealed how a computer simulation demonstrated the power of social interaction and teamwork. The more you play together, the more brain stimulation there is. This could go some way to explaining the evolution of our large brains.

The simulation was a kind of digital version of human evolution. Scientists observed that larger “brains” were selected as the levels of social interaction in the simulation grew more and more complex.

It goes to show that, deep down, every one of us is a “people person”.

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