<link rel="stylesheet" href="//fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Roboto%3A300%2C400%2C500%2C700%7CRoboto+Slab%3A400%2C700">Human evolution weekly update: Old DNA, old art & sexy men - Filthy Monkey Men

It’s the human evolution weekly update. No, this isn’t a review of how much we’ve evolved in the past week; but a review of cool discoveries about our ancestry. It’s “this week in human evolution”, but renamed. And boy, does is there a lot of updates. So no time for any more pre-amble, lets get right down to business.

  • A 45,000 year old femur from Siberia has yielded the oldest known human DNA. This sheds light on the human/neanderthal interbreeding; indicating it happened ~60,000 years ago and there were only a handful of interbreeding events. No peaceful amalgamation of the two species, sorry (read more).
The super-informative femur.

The super-informative femur.

  • 40,000 year old cave art has been found in Asia. Not only does this make it some of the oldest cave art in the world, but the only example of palaeolithic cave art outside of Europe. However, what’s most interesting is just how similar to the European art it is; perhaps suggesting there was some cultural contact between the two continents (read more)
The images from Asia

The images from Asia

  • A review of the habitat of Australopithecus (our more ape-like ancestors) has revealed they were surprisingly adaptable, capable of surviving in a large range of environments. Certainly a lot more than modern apes can live in (source).
Paranthropus (left), Australopithecus (centre) and early Homo (right)

Paranthropus (left), Australopithecus (centre) and early Homo (right)

  • Human women are more likely to view a man as attractive if they’re told his significant other is popular. I’m not sure if this has any evolutionary significance (although no doubt someone will try and read something into this) but I thought it offers an interesting glimpse into our psychology. Also, this effect was more pronounced in younger women (source).
If this hold true for chimps; whoever is dating the one in the middle has to be very attractive

If this hold true for chimps; whoever is dating the one in the middle has to be very attractive

  • An experiment compared the ability of human children and chimps to work together towards a goal. When both partners could see each other both species followed the same strategy with a similar level of success. However, when one partner was out of view of the other humans became a lot better at anticipating what their partner would do and adapting accordingly. As such, humans wound up being better than chimps in that situation (sauce).
In fairness, it's probably best chimps aren't that good at working together. They can already make spears; if they got organised we should be worried!

In fairness, it’s probably best chimps aren’t that good at working together. They can already make spears; if they got organised we should be worried!

  • Men from hunter-gatherer tribes are often thought of as large game hunters; taking down gazelle to feed their family. However, a new study of the Hadza reveals they actually spend most of their time going after small game or honey. The researchers concluded that a smaller, but consistent, source of food was more important than any big kills (sawce).
A palaeolithic engraving possibly showing  a woman hunting.

A palaeolithic engraving possibly showing a woman hunting.

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3 Comments

Clubfoot · 26th October 2014 at 8:22 pm

One point. The hunting practices of Hadza may not be the same as most ancestral people since they live in poor territories where large game are hard to find. Ancestral people probably lived mainly in much greener and more productive areas where there were more large game to hunt like herds of bison, horses etc. The cave paintings in Europe often show these types of animals, presumably because they were hunted.

    Adam Benton · 19th November 2014 at 3:53 am

    Fun fact: European cave paintings don’t seem to accurately reflect their hunting practices, with some of the most popular drawn species turning up least often in their butchery piles.

Jim Birch · 27th October 2014 at 1:17 am

People generally have almost no idea of the actual utility of significant life changes or large purchases. If you’d never seen a car you would not be able to tell if it was worth a thousand dollars or a million. No one knows what a house is worth. So, you ask around, check the net, etc.

Ditto for prospective partners. Crowd source the decision. Maybe the old and wise have more of a clue but reputation remains important. We’ve been brainwashed by romantic movies to believe that we should be relying on some inner magic of true love but in fact crowdsourcing is a very useful resource.

Unfortunately, the paper doesn’t test the opposite result of how males rate females. A simple game theory analysis that women are after resources to support their children and men are after more visible child-bearing capability suggests that men would do more looking and less crowdsourcing. It would be interesting to know how this holds up. Plenty of confounding factors.

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