Evolution Took Many Paths to Building ‘Pygmy’ Bodies

For more than two centuries physical anthropologists have been preoccupied with cataloguing and explaining the way humans vary physically across the planet. We mostly differ in familiar ways: body mass and stature, limb proportions, head size and shape, nasal prominence, proportions of the face, tooth size and shape, hair form and colour, skin pigmentation, iris…

Making Sense of Our Evolution

The science aboutour special senses – vision, smell, hearing and taste – offers fascinating and unique perspectives on our evolution. Yet it remains patchy; we know surprisingly little for example about how our sense of hearing has evolved since we shared an ancestor with chimpanzees some 8 million years ago. In contrast, understanding of the…

Aboriginal History Rewritten Again by Ignorant Political Class

Last week Liberal Democrats Senator David Leyonhjelm was widely reported as suggesting that people other than Aboriginal Australians may have occupied the Australian continent in the past. At a doorstop at Parliament House he apparently couldn’t name his sources when pressed by journalists and seemed rather vague on the details. His doubt was apparently based…

Our Ancient Obsession with Food: Humans as Evolutionary Master Chefs

Amateur cook-offs like the hugely popular MasterChef series now in its seventh season in Australia have been part of our TV diet for almost two decades. These shows celebrate the remarkable lengths we humans will go to to whet the appetite, stimulate the senses, fire our neural reward systems and sustain the body. Yet, few…

All Mixed Up: Interspecies Love-ins and the Offbeat History of Our Species

Revolutionary developments in the study of the DNA of our fossil ancestors are forcing a major rewrite of the human evolutionary story. They hold major implications for fundamental questions that cut across biology and shift the spotlight back onto humans as a central model in the study of evolution. And, they again highlight the weird…

The ‘Other’ Red Meat on the ‘Real’ Palaeodiet

The so-called palaeodiet, and now even the palaeo-epigenetic diet, has come under a lot of scrutiny of late for making wild and unsubstantiated claims and for being downright dangerous to our health. I think its fair to ask if we’re serious about the palaeolifestyle, then just how far are we prepared to take this obsession…

Did Modern Humans Wipe Out the Neanderthals in Europe?

Our closest evolutionary cousins the Neanderthals continue to fascinate scientists and prehistorians. Fossils and DNA strongly suggest we shared a common ancestor with them, genetic clocks placing the split between us in the range of 550,000 to 765,000 years ago. Our fascination stems from the fact they are our closest evolutionary cousins; we have hundreds…

From Sticks to Stones: Getting a Grip on the Human Genus

2015 has already been an amazing year for human evolution science. We’ve witnessed an uncanny convergence of discoveries on the beginnings of the human genus, Homo, and all that it implies for understanding the evolution of a range of human characteristics, including culture and tool making. Yet, the implications of this research run much deeper…

Human Environmental Footprint Reaches Far Back in Time

You’d literally have to be a cave dweller to be oblivious to the major global environmental changes happening in the world today. It reads like a litany of crimes against the planet: The many and far reaching impacts of global warming. Disruption of the planet’s chemical cycles, such as carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous and others. Air…

Age of Jawbones Mean the Origins of Humans Just Got Older

There’s plenty of excitement this month amid reports that scientists had identified the “dawn of humankind” in the Rift Valley of Ethiopia. With reports this discovery of a jawbone could “rewrite the history of human evolution” you might well imagine, my hyperbole detector became instantly aroused. Putting aside the hype that always accompanies discoveries in…

Words, Genes, and the Science of Past Human Deeds

New research reveals a clear link between the ancient spread of European languages and people, while other findings challenge the reliability of commonly used DNA for human ancestry studies altogether. Human languages have also long been known to be a marker of human cultural affiliation and biological ancestry, used by linguists and archaeologists alike as…