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The Institute of Human Origins Newsletter

The Human Factor

April 2019 volume 3.1
As the only species of our kind on Earth, humans' impact on the environment and the other species that we share the planet with is undeniable.

The development and accumulation of culture has been so important to the success of our species. Researchers are finding that humans have impacted not just the biodiversity of chimpanzee environments but also their group "culture" or behavior.

​We have used our intelligence to develop complex technologies, but as research featured below shows, we don't alway understand why they work.

IHO's research, education, and outreach mission seeks to shed light on how our human past connects to the global future so that we can understand and provide insights into today's challenges.

We thank you for taking this human journey with us.

Featured stories

Articles highlighting news, partnerships, and research
Chimpanzee image by Langergrabber

Human impact erodes chimpanzee behavior diversity

Just as human impacts on the environment can reduce the biodiversity of plant and animal life, research by a large group of collaborating scientists, including IHO Research Affiliate Kevin Langergraber and graduate student Kevin Lee, finds that human activity has a negative effect on the cultural and behavioral diversity of chimpanzees.

The international research team compiled an unprecedented data set on 31 chimpanzee behaviors across 144 social groups or communities, located throughout the entire geographic range of wild chimpanzees.

Read more about this research in ASU News. 

Students attempted to make this device work better

Our intelligence can improve technology without understanding why

Even in traditional societies, human technology is often too complex to be the product of human ingenuity alone. Complex technologies result from the accumulation of many, mostly small and often poorly understood, improvements made across generations linked by cultural transmission.

Researchers, including IHO Research Affiliate Robert Boyd and former postdoctoral scholar Maxime Derex, wanted to test a hypothesis that beneficial changes over generations can produce cultural adaptations without individual understanding. The team studied cultural evolution in the laboratory with an exercise to simulate “generations” of improvements, using a wheel with weights that could be moved on the spokes, to see what combination made the wheel roll faster down the ramp.

Read more about the experiment and participants' understanding in the ASU Now story.

Some anthropologists explore ancient ecosystems!

Have you visited is a fun and interactive website for middle to early high school students and teachers who want to learn more about who we are and how humans developed over millions of years.

In the newest stories, you can "Meet Our Anthropologists," including William Kimbel, Donald Johanson, Curtis Marean, and Kaye Reed. Each of these scientists has a unique story to tell about why they became interested in science and what their research is about.

In the "World of Anthropology" section, read about why our brains grew, how climate affected our ancient ancestors, what teeth—modern and ancient—can tell us about being human, and why we study primates to understand human behavior. 

Finally, the site features videos of Donald Johanson in some short Q&A sessions.

Please explore and if you have a question—Ask An Anthropologist!

New science

The newest developments in human origins science from IHO
(IHO-related researchers in bold; a subscription is required to access the full article)
Evidence for increased hominid diversity in the Early-Middle Pleistocene of Indonesia
Nature Ecology & Evolution
Clement Zanoli et al, including Jay Kelley

Causal understanding is not necessary for the improvement of culturally evolving technology
Nature Human Behavior
Maxime Derex, Jean-Francois Bennofon, Robert Boyd, Alex Mesoudi
Link to ASU Now article

Human impact erodes chimpanzee behavioral diversity
Hjalmar S. Kuhl et al, including Kevin Langergraber and Kevin Lee
Link to ASU Now article

Origins of the human predatory pattern: The transition to large-animal exploitation by early hominins
Current Anthropology
Jessica C. Thompson, Susana Carvalho, Curtis W. Marean, Zeresenay Alemseged
Featured science at IHO NY 2018 event—Watch the lecture by Jessica Thompson 

Male-female relationships in olive baboons (Papio anubis): Parenting or mating effort?
Journal of Human Evolution vol 127, 81–92
Veronika Stadele, Eila R. Roberts, Brenda J. Barrett, Shirley C. Strum, Linda Vigilant, Joan B. Silk

Featured events

Engage with IHO scientists and research
Bill Kimbel at the 2018 NY Event
Save the Date!
IHO Annual New York Event

Friday, November 8, 2019
5:30 to 8:30 pm
Metropolitan Club
New York City

This will be the sixth year that IHO has hosted one of the preeminent human origins science events in New York City. This event continues to grow in size, so for last several years, the event is at the storied and beautiful Metropolitan Club across from Central Park. 

This year's event will be opened by IHO Founding Director Donald Johanson, who will review advances in human origins science since the discovery of the Lucy fossil 45 years ago. The featured lecture will be given by IHO International Affiliate Carol Ward PhD, who is a professor in the School of Medicine at the University of Missouri.

Please contact Julie Russ at or 480.727.6571 if you are interested in attending.

Watch last year's lecture by Jessica Thompson by clicking the link here.

Thank you to event sponsors Gerry Ohrstrom, John and Judith Ellerman, and Harry and Rose Papp for their support of this annual gathering!

Contact for more information

Noted and quoted

IHO science coverage and expertise in the media

Curtis Marean lecture on coastal resources
Aquarium of the Pacific online

Curtis Marean spoke at the Aquarium of the Pacific in January about his research on how early modern humans used, and must have needed to protect, coastal resources for their subsistence. You can watch the lecture online here.

'Hobbit' human story gets a twist, thanks to thousands of rat bones 
National Geographic

On the Indonesian island of Flores is a cave where the remains of a tiny extinct human ancestor, Homo floresiensis, was discovered. An article in National Geographic by IHO-affiliated graduate student Paige Madison details what scientists have also discovered in the cave—thousands of rat bones from across 190,000 years. These remains may help tell the story of prehistoric life in the cave. Read this engaging article here.

Of interest

Top stories from around ASU
The Lucy mission is launching soon!

Lucy Mission is set for launch in 2021

NASA says, it's a go for the Lucy Mission in October 2021!

With boosts from Earth's gravity, the spacecraft will complete a 12-year journey to seven different asteroids around Jupiter. The lead scientist named this mission for the Lucy fossil, which provided unique insight into humanity's evolution. Likewise, the Lucy mission will revolutionize our knowledge of planetary origins and the formation of the solar system.

The Lucy Mission is a joint "Discovery" class mission that includes ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration, the Southwest Research Institute, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Lockheed Martin Space Systems, and Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. 

​Read more about the mission at the NASA website.
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Thank you for your support!

On March 21, thousands of people in the ASU community came together on Sun Devil Giving Day to support the causes they believe in. It's an annual celebration of giving that makes a big difference all year long. 

IHO focuses its giving on this day to support the needs of its graduate students with funding for conferences, small equipment, and seed money for research.

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