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….

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…

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…

When Humans Split from the Apes

When and where did humans split from the apes to become a separate branch of bipeds? Are we an ape or not? If so, which of the living Great Apes is the closest to humans? European philosophers and scientists have debated questions like these for more than three centuries. From the pre-evolutionary musings of sixteenth…

How a One Night Stand in the Ice Age Affects Us All Today

Over the past half decade, ancient DNA research has revealed some surprising aspects to our evolutionary history during the past 50,000 years. Perhaps the most startling of these has been the extent to which the ancestors of living people across the planet interbred with other closely related species of human. But where in the world…

Did ‘Rising Star’ Shine Too Bright?

Last week was rather exceptional for human evolution science, even for those of us who are used to the extravagances of media attention that surround the field. We were spoilt with the announcement of no less than two major discoveries in just as many days. The first of them – the new South African species…

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…

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…

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…

Human Races: Biological Reality or Cultural Delusion?

The issue of race has been in the news a lot lately with the canning of proposed amendments to Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act, attempts by extremists to commit genocide on cultural minorities in Iraq and a new book by US author Nicholas Wade that has scientists claiming their work was hijacked to promote an ideological…

Has Human Evolution Come to an End?

Surprising discoveries that reveal how we have evolved since the Stone Age offer real and troubling insights into where we may be headed as a species. Futurologists love to think they have the answers to questions about where we might be headed as humans: technologically, socially and biologically. A recent example bandied about on the…