This week in human evolution (4/8/14): Prehistoric violence in the Middle East, fossils with scoliosis & more

On Friday I write shorter posts about research into human evolution that is interesting, but doesn’t contain quite enough content to sustain a longer article. Except I keep finding interesting discoveries that are still too short even for this format. So I thought I’d group a bunch of them together into a “this week in EvoAnth” style post. The first few will include older stories as I work through my backlog, but hopefully they’ll become more topical over time. As always, feel free to leave any suggestions for improvements; or maybe point out a topic you’d like to see more on.

Admin over, here is the first edition of “this week in EvoAnth”; for the week starting 4/8/14. And covering news from before that date.

  • The Qafzeh 11 skull. The arrow points to the head trauma

    The Qafzeh 11 skull. The arrow points to the head trauma

    Violence in the Middle East may have a very long history. Qafzeh 11, a 90,000 year old human from Galilee, has been identified as the first person in the region to suffer head trauma. The wound didn’t kill them – although did appear to stunt their brain growth and may have resulted in neurological disorders – and they managed to survive a few more years until eventually dying at around age 13. Although consistent with assault, accident can’t be ruled out as a cause. Qafzeh 11 appears to have been given a ceremonial burial by their tribe (source).

  • New fossils have been discovered belonging to the oldest AustralopithecineAustralopithecus anamensis, which dates to around 4 million years ago. These fossils include parts of their body never before discovered, which is handy, but they don’t really change our understanding of the species as everything fits within the range of previously discovered fossils. Nevertheless, the discovery of another individual with these characteristics confirms that Australopithecus anamensis is really a distinct species (source).
  • Narikotome boy is one of the more complete fossils of Homo erectus ever found. However, despite years of study there are several strange things about it. It’s hard to figure out how old he was (with estimates ranging from 7 – 14 years old) and he appears to have been freakishly tall with some strange asymmetries and deformaties. For a while researchers reckoned they may have found the answer: he suffered from scoliosis; a type of spinal deformity. However, new research challenges this conclusion (source).
  • Atapuerca is an important Spanish site that documents human evolution in Europe. It reveals our family abandoned the continent around 700,000 years ago. Now new dates from the site have helped pinpoint when we return. Optically-stimulated luminescence dating (OSL) suggests this “second wave” of hominins had returned to the site by around 433,000 years ago. OSL dating works by (as the name suggests) “stimulating” samples with light. Their response corresponds to how long its been since they were last exposed to light (i.e. how long they’ve been buried) (source).

And of course, let’s not forget the news stories I did cover in more detail.

7 thoughts on “This week in human evolution (4/8/14): Prehistoric violence in the Middle East, fossils with scoliosis & more

  1. One would like to believe that accident is the explanation rather than violent assault of an eleven-year-old child! (But one is smart enough to know that the world often isn’t the way one wishes it was.)

  2. Just had a quick glance at the Nariokotome paper and found this passage:

    “This pattern is incompatible with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis or other types of scoliosis, including congenital, neuromuscular or syndromic scoliosis … Except for […] trauma-related anomalies, the Nariokotome boy fossil therefore seems to belong to a normal H. erectus youth without evidence for adolescent idiopathic scoliosis or other severe pathologies of the axial skeleton.”

    They also cite this paper by Haeusler et al., which addressed many of the apparent anomalies in 2011.

    Both very interesting and important papers nonetheless!

    • Also, I believe I was at one point talking to you about a guest blog. I’m a big fan of your writing and was very happy you seemed to like the idea. I can’t remember how far down the line we got as my laptop conked out halfway through. Anyhoo, feel free to send me an email about any idea you have for such a thing. I’d be happy to give you an almost open floor. That said, one topic that really interests me is mysteries; and I would enjoy it if you were to write something about your favourite mystery about human evolution. In other words, if you could answer one question about the subject, what would it be and why? Why did the Neanderthals die out? Is Lucy a direct ancestor? The list goes on…

  3. Pingback: This week in human evolution (4/8/14): Prehisto...

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