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Small action, Large impact

March 2018 vol 2.0

Thank you to everyone who supported IHO through Sun Devil Giving Day. We do not have the final individual unit giving numbers yet, but the university as a whole raised over $600,000 from nearly 3,900 donors. The donations for Sun Devil Giving Day are generally under $100 each—which shows that small gestures add up to a large impact! 

Another very small "gift"—the discovery of a tiny shard of glass, blown across thousands of miles of ocean—made a large impact on our understanding of the earliest modern humans living in South Africa 74,000 year ago. Read more about this research in the Featured Story below.

There is nowhere else on the planet where looking up at towering rock walls from a raft plunging down rapids might make you feel small in a big, big landscape, like floating the Grand Canyon. If you are up for an amazing adventure, IHO is leading a trip May 2019. Spaces will go fast for this bucket list trip! More on the trip below.

Featured stories

Articles highlighting news, partnerships, and research

Thriving during volcanic winter—74,000 years ago

When the column of fire, smoke, and debris blasted out the top of Mount Toba in Indonesia, it spewed rock, gas, and tiny microscopic pieces of glass across thousands of miles. Encased in the shards of volcanic glass is a distinct chemical signature, a fingerprint that scientists can use to trace to the killer eruption from 74,000 years ago. 

In Indonesia, the source of the destruction would have been evident to terrified witnesses—just before they died. However, as a family of hunter-gatherers in Africa 74,000 years ago, you would have had no clue as to the reason for the sudden and devastating change in the weather.

IHO researcher Curtis Marean has been studying an archaeological site at the southern tip of South Africa where glass shards from the volcano have been identified. At Pinnacle Point—a human refuge during glacial periods, from around 195,000 to 130,000 years ago and again between 74,000 and 60,000 years ago—early modern humans appear to have thrived, despite this devasting climatic event. Read more about this research at ASU Now. 

Sarah Mathew with Turkana

How has the study of evolution changed since Darwin?

On Darwin Day, IHO Director Bill Kimbel provided some thoughtful answers to this question and more for ASU Now. Kimbel, who has traveled several times with the IHO trips program to see Darwin's inspiration for his ideas in the Galapagos, says, "A lot of people have the idea that natural selection is a circular argument. If natural selection is the survival of the fittest, then the fittest survive and so the cause and the effect are related to one another." 

"Darwin’s description of natural selection was not based on survival of the fittest; it was based on the idea that individuals who inherit characteristics that enable them to survive and reproduce in particular environments—where those traits are at an advantage—that these characteristics will increase in proportion to the traits that are less well-suited to solving these environmental problems, so it’s really about differential reproductive success."

Read the full article at ASU News.

Humans are a Different Kind of Animal

What makes humans special? It's a question humans have puzzled over for centuries. According to anthropology pioneer Robert Boyd, there are a handful of ingredients that make up human uniqueness, setting us apart from all other living things and allowing our species to flourish.

In his newly published book, A Different Kind of Animal, the IHO Research Affiliate and Origins Professor explains why humans have been so successful compared with other species. Yes, humans are smart, but there is so much more that makes us unique. Read more about the book in ASU Now.

New publications

The newest developments in human origins science from IHO
(IHO-related researchers in bold; a subscription is required to access the full article) 

The timing and causes of a unique chimpanzee community fission preceding Gombe’s “Four-year war”
Joseph T. Feldblum, Sofie Manfredi, Ian C. Gilby, Anne E. Pusey American Journal of Physical Anthropology March 2018

Humans thrived in South Africa through the Toba eruption about 74,000 years ago
Eugene I. Smith, Zenobia Jacobs, Racheal Johnsen, Minghua Ren, Erich C. Fisher, Simen Oestmo, Jayne Wilkins, Jacob A. Harris, Panagiotis Karkanas, Shelby Fitch, Amber Ciravolo, Deborah Keenan, Naomi Cleghorn, Christine S. Lane, Thalassa Mathews, Curtis W. Marean Nature 555: 511–515 March 2018
Received extensive media coverage including The New York Times and Science Magazine. 

A new Pleistocene hominin tracksite from the Cape South Coast, South Africa
Charles W. Helm, Richard T. McCrea, Hayley C. Cawthra, Martin G. Lockley, Richard M. Cowling, Curtis W. Marean, Guy H.H. Thesen, Tammy S. Pigeon Sinead Hattingh Nature: Scientific Reports Feburary 2018

Meat eating by wild chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii): Effects of prey age on carcass consumption sequence
Ian C. Gilby, Daniel Wawrzyniak International Journal of Primatology February 2018

Human mate-choice copying is domain-general social learning 
Sally E. Street, Thomas J.H. Morgan, Alex Thornton, Gillian R. Brown, Kevin N. Laland, Catharine P. Cross 
Nature: Scientific Reports January 2018

Archaeology may help climate-change adaptation
Kerstin Braun Environmental Research Web January 2018

Engraved ostrich eggshell from Middle Stone Age context of Goda Buticha, Ethiopia
Zalalem Assefa, Asfawossen Asrat, Erella Hovers, Yin Lam, Osbjorn Pearson, David Pleurdeau Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 17: 723–729 February 2018

Differentiating between cutting actions on bone using 3D Geometric Morphometrics and Bayesian analyses with implications to human evolution
Erik Otárola-Castillo, Melissa G. Torquato, Hannah C. Hawkins, Emma James, Jacob A. Harris, Curtis W. Marean, Shannon P. McPherron and Jessica C. Thompson Journal of Archaeological Science December 2017

Exploring Time Expeditions

Fuel your mind as well as your sense of adventure!
Are you ready to go? Float the Canyon with IHO!

May 26 through June 2, 2019

One of those trips of a lifetime—floating and splashing down the Colorado River! Looking up at towering rock cliffs during the day and a star-filled sky at night.

Sleep in tents or on cots under the stars, eat three meals under a bright blue Arizona sky, and travel down the river as we go back two billion years of Earth's history, revealed by our guides—ASU scientists with expertise in geology and the deep history of the Earth.

This is an amazing bucket list experience and includes not only some of the biggest, most famous rapids (negotiated expertly by long-time river operators Hatch Expeditions) but also the awesome beauty of the Canyon itself! 

Don't wait to book this trip—it will fill up fast! For more information, read IHO's travel page or contact Julie Russ at or 480.727.6571. 

Learn more about the Grand Canyon Trip

Noted and quoted

IHO science coverage and expertise in the media

Asking what it means to be human

This year, ASU was ranked No. 1 for anthropology-related research expenditures in the National Science Foundation’s most recent Higher Education Research and Development survey. At $13.2 million, ASU is far ahead of the pack for anthropology-related research. The No. 2 school, the State University of New York at Buffalo, had $5.9 million in anthropology-related expenditures.

ASU’s ranking reflects large research awards that support new approaches to old questions. For example, in 2016, IHO was awarded a $4.9 million, three-year grant from the John Templeton Foundation for the study of human origins. The grant enables ASU researchers to pursue innovative methods, including combining the traditional “bones and stones” research with investigations about human thinking and how it arose. The work on this grant leverages the diverse expertise of ASU faculty and has set the direction of human origins research for years to come. Read the full article.

Oldest Neanderthal tools made with fire?
Science Magazine

Nearly 60 partially burned wooden sticks were excavated in Grosseto, Italy, from 
layers of stratified soil and rock filled with prehistoric bones and artifacts close to 171,000 years old. The most likely creators of the sticks were Neandertals, who are known to have lived in Europe at that time. If our extinct cousins did indeed craft the sticks, they represent the earliest use of fire for toolmaking among Neandertals.

IHO Assistant Research Scientist Erich Fisher, who was not involved in the study, was quoted in the article and said that it could be one more nail in the coffin of their image as unsophisticated, technologically backward hominids. “I think significantly more work needs to be done understanding this very unique assemblage that they have,” he says.

Thank your for your ongoing support and interest in IHO science, research, and outreach!
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