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The Institute of Human Origins Newsletter

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.

Featured stories

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

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.

Read more at IHO news
(Image courtesy Angeline Leece).

Students attempted to make this device work better

Lucy's brain was part ape, part human 

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)

Some anthropologists explore ancient ecosystems!

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.

Read more at IHO News

(Image shows postdoctoral researcher Carla Handley in her "field office.")

Some anthropologists explore ancient ecosystems!

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.

Read more at IHO News

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)
Social norms and cultural diversity in the development of third-party punishment
Proceedings of the Royal Society B
Bailey R. House, Joan Silk, et al

Contemporaneity of Australopithecus, Paranthropus, and early Homo erectus in South Africa

Andy I. R. Herries, et al including Gary T. Schwartz

Australopithecus afarensis endocasts suggest ape-like brain organization and prolonged brain growth
Science Advances
Philipp Gunz, et al including William H. Kimbel and Zeresenay Alemseged (IHO International Affiliate)

Human large-scale cooperation as a product of competition between cultural groups
Nature Communications
Carla Handley, Sarah Mathew

By reverence, not fear: Prestige, religion, and autonomic regulation in the evolution of cooperation
Frontiers in Psychology
Hillary L. Lenfesty, Thomas J. H. Morgan

Geographically divergent evolutionary and ecological legacies shape mammal biodiversity in the global tropics and subtropics
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
John Rowan, Lydia Beaudrot, Janet Franklin, Kaye E. Reed, Irene E. Smail, Andrew Zamora, Jason M. Kamilar

Oral microbiome diversity in chimpanzees from Gombe National Park
Nature Scientific Reports
Andrew T. Ozga, Ian Gilby, Rebecca S. Nockerts, Michael L. Wilson, Anne Pusey, Anne C. Stone

Ancient DNA reconstructs the genetic legacies of pre-contact Puerto Rico communities
Molecular Biology and Evolution
Maria A Nieves-Colon, William J. Pestle, Austin W. Reynolds, Bastien Llamas, Constanza de la Fuente, Kathleen Fowler, Katherine M. Skerry, Edwin Crespo-Torres, Carlos D. Bustamante, Anne C. Stone

Geological collaboration at paleoanthropological sites in Ethiopia’s lower Awash Valley
Evolutionary Anthropology
10.06.2019, vol 28. 228–232
C. J. Campisano, Lower Awash Valley Workshop Participants

New Sivapithecus specimen from Ramnagar (Jammu and Kashmir), India and a taxonomic revision of Ramnagar hominoids
Journal of Human Evolution
Christopher C. Gilbert, Ramesh K. Sehgal, Kelsey D. Pugh, Christopher J. Campisano, Evangeline May, Biren A. Patel, Ningthoujam Premjit Singh, Rajeev Patnaik

Universal norm psychology leads to societal diversity in prosocial behavior and development
Nature Human Behavior
Bailey R. House, Joan B. Silk et al

The foraging potential of the Holocene Cape south coast of South Africa without the Palaeo-Agulhas Plain
Quaternary Science Reviews
Colin D. Wren, et al, including Marco A. Janssen, Kim Hill, Jacob A. Harris, Erich C. Fisher, Curtis Marean

Cultural variations in the Curse of Knowledge: The Curse of Knowledge bias in children from a nomadic pastoralist culture in Kenya
Journal of Cognition and Culture
08.07.2019 vol 19 (3/4) 366–384
Siba Ghrear, Maciej Chudek, Klint Fung, Sarah Mathew, Susan A Birch

Identifying, understanding, and correcting technical artifacts on the sex chromosomes in next-generation sequencing data
07.2019 vol 8, issue 7
Timothy H. Webster, Medline Couse, Bruno M. Grande, Eric Karlins, Tanya N. Phung, Phillip A. Richmond, Whitney Whitford, Melissa A Wilson


Engage with IHO scientists and research

Bill Kimbel at the 2018 NY Event

Meet IHO's newest scientist—
Kathryn Ranhorn PhD

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 ( 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.

Of interest

Top stories from around ASU

ASU for You is an approach to education that supports Universal Learners® with resources from a national research university recognizing that to meet the needs of a rapidly changing, technology-driven world, people will need to access education and learning platforms throughout their lives.

Whether you are a learner or an educator, this new offering—launched now at a time when the world faces unique challenges that demand innovation and adaptation—provides a flexible and growing set of digital educational assets. The program is designed for people of all ages and at all stages of their educational, career or lifelong learning journey—wherever in the world they may be.

IHO's Ask An Anthropologist is one of the resources in the ASU for You family! 

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