<link rel="stylesheet" href="//fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Roboto%3A300%2C400%2C500%2C700%7CRoboto+Slab%3A400%2C700">This week in human evolution (4/8/14): Prehistoric violence in the Middle East, fossils with scoliosis & more - Filthy Monkey Men

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.

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9 Comments

Wyrd Smythe · 8th August 2014 at 6:02 pm

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.)

    Adam Benton · 9th August 2014 at 1:49 pm

    We do have evidence of some fairly horrific things in the past. In Spain, there’s an even older group of fossils that appear to show a family being butchered and eaten

      Wyrd Smythe · 9th August 2014 at 8:46 pm

      And, sadly, we also have evidence of some fairly horrific things in the present!

James R Lumbard · 8th August 2014 at 6:11 pm

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. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0047248411001643

Both very interesting and important papers nonetheless!

    Adam Benton · 9th August 2014 at 11:20 am

    That’s an embarrassing mistake. Well I’ve fixed it, so now nobody will ever know!

    Adam Benton · 9th August 2014 at 6:03 pm

    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…

      Kincaid · 12th September 2014 at 11:05 am

      in regards to: (http://evoanth.wordpress.com/2013/02/21/could-neanderthals-throw-2/)

      Just wanted to jump in to current article to make sure it gets seen:

      I have been researching this a lot due to my neanderthal-related health issues and I have to say, as a complete layman, anthropologists are daft as hell. The test that discredited neanderthal spear jabbing in favor of clothes making was flawed because it actually proved EXACTLY that they jabbed. Most of the force comes from the FRONT hand which when you are jabbing a 15 foot tall mammoth is going to be YOUR RIGHT HAND, YOUR STRONG ARM in front NOT BACK. There are 2 types of people in this world spear jabbers and spear throwers and the jabbers skate goofy and fight southpaw, got it? right foot forward. (I am right hand and right foot dominant. skated right foot forward at age 8, shoveled right hand forward at age 9, since 15 I could do a one armed pullup both arms, and not to be extra relevant but at 13 I beat the 16 year old 200 lb gorilla looking baseball pitcher at armwrestling, I have mad grip and wrist strength and now at 22 5’8 and 145 lbs sick with intestinal autoimmunity and naturally, spinal arthritis. I am aware I’m not a case study I just want to share the obvious here. I could go on about my shoulder dislocation, total aversion to throwing, and structural similarities to neanderthal forearms most strange is the significance of feeling “locked” in a bent position, yet another jabbing vs throwing trait as you can figure out)

      Naturally, the throwers (most people, and obviously the guy in the faulty test) lower the spear from their throwing position, hardwired with the left foot forward to a less natural jabbing position which hasn’t truly been used by Sapiens ancestors for, as you posted elsewhere, 500,000 years. Neanderthals are a bit different however, and as you can see, when you spend a few winters jabbing mammoths YOU LEARN TO KEEP THE STRONG ARM TOWARD THE MAMMOTH.

      Now, why didn’t they learn to throw instead? Quite logical actually. Sapiens excelled in hunting through superior sweating and exhausted animals by chasing them for miles BUT GUESS WHAT THIS DOESN’T WORK IN -50 DEGREE WEATHER WHEN THE ANIMAL WON’T OVERHEAT AND YOUR SWEAT WOULD KILL YOU.

      Instead, there is only one way to hunt large game in the cold with a spear. Surround it in a canyon, JAB IT TO DEATH. This is why they suffered rodeo injuries. SOMEONE ALWAYS HAD TO TAKE A HIT FOR THE TEAM. NO ANDS IFS OR BUTS, somebody is getting wrecked as an angry animal makes its escape. Teammates get their critical damage in, animal makes off and dies shortly after. Walk (not run, they didn’t fucking run), to the feast before the tiger gets it.

      Now go figure out if you skate goofy.

      Don’t ask me how I know all this.

        Kincaid · 12th September 2014 at 11:10 am

        I forgot to add, about the nose.

        Large sinuses does not mean large nostril. Large sinus is to warm the air before inhalation. Doesnt work too well if you have a large nostril. You want a small nostril to slow the rate of inhalation, and have the air spend more time warming in the sinus cavity (which will be warmed from exhalations). Case in point see snow leopard. It is the tropical hominids that develop the large nostrils. Small ones came from cold climate.

        So now you know how they died out. Climate change. Neanderthals are meant to be in cold weather, coming face to face with large animals, with the fucking strong arm forward. Not running around like a bunch of pussies.

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