Curious Kids: Where Did the First Person Come From?

This is an article from Curious Kids, a new series for children. The Conversation is asking kids to send in questions they’d like an expert to answer. All questions are welcome – serious, weird or wacky! Where did the first person come from? – Maeve, age 8, Adelaide. What an awesome question, Maeve! It’s one…

Was Agriculture the Greatest Blunder in Human History?

Twelve thousand years ago everybody lived as hunters and gatherers. But by 5,000 years ago most people lived as farmers. This brief period marked the biggest shift ever in human history with unparalleled changes in diet, culture and technology, as well as social, economic and political organisation, and even the patterns of disease people suffered….

Where Were All the Women in the Stone Age?

Were there any women around in the Palaeolithic Era? If popular culture is any guide you’d think not. And even archaeology itself has a long way to go to address a deeply ingrained bias towards men. It’s obvious that without women Homo sapiens could hardly be here today. But our cultural imaginings of the Palaeolithic…

Humans are Driving a New Burst of Evolution Including Possibly Our Own

The unprecedented impact that humans are having on the planet is well known to us all. Scarcely a day passes by without a media report or two on the effects of human economic activity on the world’s climate or some charismatic species under threat because of illegal wildlife trade or logging. Our impact on the…

Humans Are Still Evolving But In Ways That Might Surprise You

It’s often said that through our innovations in science, agriculture and medicine humans have become masters of our biological destiny. That we’ve seized control of our evolution, eliminating most of the causes of death and suffering experienced by our ancient and not too distant ancestors. We’ve wiped out hunger and famine and eliminated food shortages…

Paying a Heavy Price for Loving the Neanderthals

One of the biggest surprises about our evolution revealed over just the last decade is the extent to which our ancestors engaged in amorous congress with the evolutionary cousins. Bonking the Neanderthals, it seems, was a bit of a pastime for the distant relatives. It happened many times in Siberia, East Asia, the Middle East…

Why Are There So Many Species of Bugs, But So Few Species of Human?

Looking around at the natural world, have you ever wondered why some groups of organisms contain huge numbers of species while others are seemingly barren? Take insects as an example, animals which evolved around 480 million years ago. There are perhaps 6 million species living in all manner of environments, and occupying an incredible diversity…

Ancient Australia: World’s First Nation of Innovators

For the first couple of centuries of European occupation of Australia the history of its Indigenous people, as written by white fellas, drew heavily on adjectives like ‘primitive’. As both a white fella and an anthropologist devoting much of my time to writing about human origins, I can only try to imagine the devastating effects…

A Golden Age of Ancient DNA Science Begins

If I had taken a straw poll among anthropologists 10 years ago asking them how far genetic research would come in the next decade, I doubt anyone would have come close to predicting the big impact fossil DNA work would come to have. Back then, this nascent field was bogged down with fundamental issues like…

An Ancient Australian Connection to India?

When was the remote Australian continent first settled? Where did these ancient Australians come from? Was the island settled once, or on multiple occasions? Is there a genealogical connection between the Indigenous people of Australia and India? These are questions I’ve spent almost two decades cogitating, and some of them have been pondered now for…