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A Resilient Species
April 2020 volume 4.0
Imagine sharing the planet with more than one kind of human being. Two million years ago, that is exactly what was happening—Homo erectus
and two different species of australopiths lived within miles of each other.
It is thought that Homo erectus evolved to become us, and we have spread across every biome on the globe. Today, we share the planet with many different species of life and many different kinds of people. We have evolved and survived because we are a resilient species who has adapted through shared cooperation, culture, and communication.
And we will continue to do so in these challenging times.
We join you in staying home, staying safe, and sharing our unique human resilience.
Articles highlighting news, partnerships, and research
When three species of hominin walked the Earth
An exciting discovery of a Homo erectus skull has led to the realization that during this same narrow time slice, at just around two million years ago, there were three very different types of ancient human ancestors roaming the same small landscape. Along with Homo erectus found in Drimolen, South Africa, other hominins in the area were Paranthropus robustus and Australopithecus sediba.
IHO researcher Gary Schwartz said that we don’t yet know whether they interacted directly, but their presence raises the possibility that these ancient fossil humans evolved strategies to divvy up the landscape and its resources in some way to enable them to live in such close proximity.
Using CT-scanning technology, scientists were able to view three-million-year-old brain imprints inside fossil skulls of the species Australopithecus afarensis (famous for “Lucy” and “Selam” from Ethiopia’s Afar region) to shed new light on the evolution of brain organization and growth.
The researchers, including IHO Director Bill Kimbel, reveal that while Lucy’s species had an ape-like brain structure, the brain took longer to reach adult size, suggesting that infants may have had a longer dependence on caregivers, a human-like trait.
Read more at ASU Now, but don't miss the banner image of the skull pieces coming together to form the skull. (Image courtesy Philipp Gunz, MPI EVA Leipzig)
Does culture help us cooperate?
It may not always seem so, but scientists are convinced that humans are unusually cooperative. Unlike other animals, we cooperate not just with kith and kin, but also with genetically unrelated strangers.
A study by IHO researchers Carla Handley and Sarah Mathew provides some insight on this issue by pinpointing how culture may have fueled our capacity to cooperate with strangers.
(Image shows postdoctoral researcher Carla Handley in her "field office.")
Ancient DNA reveals secrets in chimpanzee teeth
Dental plaque—the stuff that your hygienist is always scraping off your teeth—holds a treasure trove of your DNA and, if not cleaned off occasionally, will build up and remain on your teeth long after you are gone. This is why dental calculus, or plaque, is a rich source of ancient DNA in the archaeological record and has been used to answer many biological and anthropological questions about Neanderthal diet and behavior and patterns of ancient human migration.
So, when researchers Anne Stone and Andrew Ozga were looking to understand the oral microbiome of our closest relative—chimpanzees—they turned to this record of biological information.
IHO welcomed Kathryn (Katie) Ranhorn as a Research Associate in fall 2019. Ranhorn fills an important role in IHO research, specializing in stone tools and artifacts. She is also an Assistant Professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change and received her PhD at George Washington University.
Her research investigates the relationship of human cultural transmission and technology throughout the African later Quaternary period, which began around 2.6 million years ago to present, combining archaeology and experimental archaeology. Her work emphasizes the social aspects of technology production in early modern humans in an effort to understand the social processes and mechanisms involved in human dispersals out of Africa and throughout the Old World.
Ranhorn’s fieldwork in Tanzania seeks to advance our understanding of Tanzania's deep human history while safeguarding and celebrating the country's invaluable tangible and intangible heritage through community archaeology, heritage management, and digital archaeology. Currently she is leading a community archaeology project at Kisese II rockshelter in Kondoa, central Tanzania (a UNESCO World Heritage Center).
Colorado River rafting through the Grand Canyon
An amazing trip! Let's do it again!
The 2019 trip was such a success that IHO will again partner with Hatch River Expeditions for a May 29 to June 5, 2021 trip.
We know right now that you are dreaming of an adventure! We are too and have our "optimists" hat on in the hope that we will all be able to travel again soon. So, we have secured a week in 2021 for this amazing adventure!
IHO's trips program has gone to exotic places across the globe, but here in our own backyard is an adventure of a lifetime—Grand Canyon River Rafting! Take a six-day journey deep into the canyons of the Colorado River, led by IHO and School of Earth and Space Exploration geologists Chris Campisano and Ramon Arrowsmith. You will hike, eat great food, and spend tranquil and exciting days running the river, while learning about the beginnings of the Earth back to over 300 million years ago.
If you are interested in joining the group, email Julie Russ (email@example.com) to get on the list (first-come, first-served for your place on the list). No deposit required until we know that it is safe to travel! More information on the website.
Noted and quoted
IHO science coverage and expertise in the media
Stone tools on Pitcairn Island Radio New Zealand interview with IHO doctoral student Jonathan Paige
Jonathan Paige's research focuses on the evolution of stone tool technology. He was in New Zealand to analyze materials gathered in the Pitcairn Islands. Listen to the interview here.
Johanson returns to the room where it happened—at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History Cleveland Museum of Natural History
After a 38-year hiatus, IHO Founding Director Donald Johanson returned to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History to give a lecture for the museum's 45th anniversary celebration of the "Lucy" discovery. When Johanson discovered the Lucy fossil in Ethiopia, he was working for the museum and brought back the fossil to the U.S. for a time where he and many other scientists were able to analyze the discovery before returning it to Ethiopia.
Johanson received a standing ovation for this talk about his time at the museum, his early career, and excitement of the discovery. Watch the entire lecture here.
Top stories from around ASU
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