Thursday, November 7, 2019

A Decade of Archaeology

There is still so much we do not know. From Gizmodo:
In 2013, scientists stumbled upon one of the most significant archaeological discoveries of the decade: a previously unknown extinct human species, which they named Homo naledi. The remains of 15 individuals were excavated from South Africa’s Rising Star Cave by an all-female team of archaeologists. The resulting analysis, which involved researchers from the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa and other institutions, showed that these ancient hominins featured very human-like teeth, wrists, legs, and feet, but with a small brain case, shrugged shoulders, curved fingers, and hips reminiscent of Australopithecus. In an email to Gizmodo, Jeremy DeSilva, an associate professor of anthropology at Dartmouth College, explained the significance of the find:
Surprisingly, Homo naledi shared the landscape with our own Homo sapiens ancestors only 250,000 years-ago, further complicating a Pleistocene world already occupied with Neanderthals, Denisovans, and island-dwelling hobbits. Not only were the fossils transformative, but Lee Berger and his team used these fossils to change the way our science is done. The recovery of the fossils was live-tweeted, connecting the world with science as it was happening in real-time. A large international team, consisting of many recent Ph.D. recipients, was assembled to work on the fossils. The results of the team’s work were published in open-access scientific journals. And 3D surface scans of the fossils themselves are available at no cost. The days of paleoanthropologists hoarding their fossils like gollums, in possession of the one ring to rule them all, are nearing an end. Meanwhile, these fossils are a startling awakening that there is a lot more out there just waiting to be discovered.
Living between 335,000 and 236,000 years ago, these hominins stood around 4 foot 9 inches tall (1.44 meters) and weighed between 88 and 125 pounds (40 and 56 kilograms). Sadly, not much is known about Homo naledi, such as its relation to other Homo species, its diet, or how it moved through its Pleistocene landscape. (Read more.)

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