Category: science

The Ability to Adapt Gave Homo Sapiens an Edge:

Humans are pretty adaptable compared to other hominin species, and other apes, which may have been key to the survival of our species. Most animals stick to particular habitats, or are wide-ranging, and based on that scientists classify species on a continuum between generalist and specialist.

But homo sapiens are unique in that they can specialize, and they can generalize. We are specialist-generalists. Some humans have adapted intensively to one ecological niche, most famously high-altitude zones, while other wander across ecological zones. Yet we are still all one species, able to intermarry, or switch regions and adapt. That makes homo sapiens unique across species.

When Ötzi the Iceman died around 5,300 years ago in the Italian Alps, he was surrounded by thousands of microscopic fragments of bryophytes, a plant group that includes mosses and the flowerless green plants known as liverworts. Now a team has analyzed bryophyte fragments recovered from Ötzi’s clothes, gastrointestinal tract, and pieces of ice around him.

Although only 23 bryophyte species currently live near the glacier where Ötzi was found, about 75 species were identified by the team. This included 10 liverwort species, which are rarely recovered from archaeological sites. The team also found that only 30% of the identified species were local to where Ötzi died. The rest came from lower elevations, helping to confirm the route Ötzi took as he journeyed to what became his final resting place more than 10,000 feet above sea level.

New Study Pinpoints The Ancestral Homeland of All Humans Alive Today:

A group of researchers say they have pinpointed the ancestral homeland of all humans alive today: modern-day Botswana. Based on analyses of mitochondrial DNA, the researchers concluded that every person alive today descended from a woman who lived in modern-day Botswana about 200,000 years ago.

When Neanderthals Replaced Us:

Israeli cave finds challenge our theories about evolution’s winners and losers. Because the archaeological evidence shows that homo sapiens lived in the area between 115,000 and 75,000 years ago. Neanderthals lived in the area around the same time, successfully maintaining a population without interbreeding with the neighboring homo sapiens.

Homo sapiens are thinner, adapted for warmer and wetter climates. Neanderthals are stockier and carry more heat, adapted for cooler and drier climates.

So when the climate of the area changed, steppe-glaciers advancing and forests disappearing, homo sapiens retreated while Neanderthals stayed.  It’s unclear if the homo sapiens living in the area died out, or moved south to more favorable climes. The archaeological record does not say. 

But we do know that it about 5,000 years later, around 60,000 years ago, homo sapiens sent a second successful wave of settlers into the area. And of course, in the long run, the Neanderthals were the ones who died out. But the

evidence from Israel’s caves show that outcome was not always inevitable.

In his seminal work, On the Origin of Species, Darwin wrote that bumblebees are the only pollinators of red clover. In 1862 he discovered that this is wrong. Honeybees also pollinate red clover well.

He wrote to his friend John Lubbock, “I hate myself, I hate clover, and I hate bees.”

Thirty-one objects thought to have belonged to one warrior have been found in a cache in northeastern Germany’s Tollense Valley, where an intense battle was fought by as many as 2,000 warriors around 1,300 BCE. The warrior’s kit included a bronze awl with a birch handle, a knife, a chisel, a decorated belt box, three dress pins, arrowheads, and fragments of bronze that may have been used as currency. Three thin bronze metal cylinders pierced with bronze nails found with the kit may have been fittings for a cloth bag or wooden storage box which degraded, leaving only its metal fittings.

The bronze items in the warrior’s kit are similar to those found in southern Germany and the Czech Republic, and combined with the chemical analyses of multiple warriors’ bones suggesting they did not grow up locally, it is thought that perhaps warriors from multiple regions came together in this valley to fight over trade routes along the Tollense River.

Blue, green, and hazel eyes all exist thanks to a genetic mutation; brown was the only eye color present in humans until about 6,000 years ago.

New geological research suggests that the Incan city of Macchu Picchu is located at the spot where two faults in the tectonic plates meet. These faults produced an abundance of stone over millions of years, meaning that the Incans had plenty of stone easily available to build a city with. The researchers added that other Incan cities, including Ollantaytambo, Pisac, and Cusco, are located at similar intersections.

Those same fractures that provided stone also make for excellent drains. Which is important to help avoid flooding during the heavy rainstorms that can happen in the region. The excellent drainage almost certainly contributed to Macchu Picchu surviving so well, after its abandonment by the Inca, and being left to the elements for over 400 years.

A child-sized cup with a nipple-like spout was included in the burial of a small child, about 2,500 years ago in southern Germany. It is one of many miniature cups, many with nipple-like spouts, that have been found interred with young children’s remains across Europe. The oldest are almost 5,500 years old! They look like sippy cups, but what were these Bronze and Iron age babies drinking?

Analysis of the residue inside the containers strongly suggest that they were used to feed the babies animal’s milk. Perhaps it was part of weaning from their mothers, and transitioning to solid food. There was also evidence that the milk was fresh when it was put in sippy cup to be buried.

A fossil of an unusual piranha-like fish from the Late Jurassic period has been unearthed by scientists in southern Germany. It belonged to an extinct order of bony fish, and had serrated sharp teeth, perfect for tearing bites off its prey. That’s very unusual since most species in its order were shellfish eaters with flat, crushing teeth.

Even more amazing – some of the fossil’s victims were in the limestone with it! Fish with chunks missing from their fins were found nearby, confirming that the new find was indeed a flesh-eating bony fish, the first one on record.

The fossil has been named Piranhamesodon pinnatomus. The genus name is “Piranha” (you can guess why) plus “mesodon,"a common suffix for bony fish of this order, and the species name is Latin for "fin-cutter.”