Tag: Prehistory

Ancient DNA reveals the earliest evidence of the last massive human migration to Western Europe

Reading time: 6 minutes

Nomadic animal-herders from the Eurasian steppe mingled with Copper Age farmers in southeastern Europe centuries earlier than previously thought. In a new study published in Nature, we used ancient DNA to gain new insights into the spread of culture, technologies and ancestry at a crucial juncture in European history.

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Forget ‘Man the Hunter’ – physiological and archaeological evidence rewrites assumptions about a gendered division of labor in prehistoric times

Reading time: 8 minutes
Prehistoric men hunted; prehistoric women gathered. At least this is the standard narrative written by and about men to the exclusion of women. The idea of “Man the Hunter” runs deep within anthropology, convincing people that hunting made us human, only men did the hunting, and therefore evolutionary forces must only have acted upon men. Such depictions are found not only in media, but in museums and introductory anthropology textbooks, too.

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An incredible journey: the first people to arrive in Australia came in large numbers, and on purpose

Reading time: 5 minutes
The size of the first population of people needed to arrive, survive, and thrive in what is now Australia is revealed in two studies published today. It took more than 1,000 people to form a viable population. But this was no accidental migration, as our work shows the first arrivals must have been planned.

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Ancient humans may have paused in Arabia for 30,000 years on their way out of Africa

Reading time: 4 minutes
Most scientists agree modern humans developed in Africa, more than 200,000 years ago, and that a great human diaspora across much of the rest of the world occurred between perhaps 60,000 and 50,000 years ago. In new research published in Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, we have uncovered dozens of distinctive historical changes in the human genome to reveal a new chapter in this story.

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Have humans always gone to war?

Reading time: 5 minutes
The question of whether warfare is encoded in our genes, or appeared as a result of civilisation, has long fascinated anyone trying to get to grips with human society. Might a willingness to fight neighbouring groups have provided our ancestors with an evolutionary advantage? With conflicts raging across the globe, these questions have implications for understanding our past, and perhaps our future as well.

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Fresh clues to the life and times of the Denisovans, a little-known ancient group of humans

Reading time: 7 minutes
We know that some modern human genomes contain fragments of DNA from an ancient population of humans called Denisovans, the remains of which have been found at only one site, a cave in what is now Siberia.

Two papers published in Nature today give us a firmer understanding of when these little-known archaic humans (hominins) lived.

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A cave site in Kenya’s forests reveals the oldest human burial in Africa

Reading time: 7 minutes
Africa is often referred to as the cradle of humankind – the birthplace of our species, Homo sapiens. There is evidence of the development of early symbolic behaviours such as pigment use and perforated shell ornaments in Africa, but so far most of what we know about the development of complex social behaviours such as burial and mourning has come from Eurasia.

However, the remains of a child buried almost 80,000 years ago under an overhang at Panga ya Saidi cave in Kenya is providing important new details.

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Why the Neanderthals may have been more sophisticated hunters than we thought – new study

Reading time: 6 minutes
When Neanderthals are depicted in artistic reconstructions, they often have a spear in hand. Most archaeologists believe that Neanderthals were adept hunters, and we have found spears at Neanderthal sites. But our knowledge of how they used spears and how that compares with our own species has been inconclusive. Rather than using the spears for hunting, Neanderthals could have used them for self-defence or scavenging.

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Neanderthals: Javelin athletes helped us show how effective they were at hunting with weapons

Reading time: 5 minutes
Neanderthals used to be portrayed as unintelligent and technologically deficient, a species that went extinct because of its inferiority to humans. But researchers now generally agree that Neanderthals were adept predators, innovative builders and symbolic thinkers. So how were early humans actually different from Neanderthals? It’s getting increasingly difficult to tell. But the capability to kill at a distance – such as with a bow and arrow – has long been thought of thought of as one important threshold in our human success story.

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Old teeth from a rediscovered cave show humans were in Indonesia more than 63,000 years ago

Reading time: 6 minutes

Modern humans were present in Southeast Asia about 20,000 years earlier than previously thought, according to new evidence published in Nature today.

An international research team led by Macquarie University applied new archaeological techniques to a longstanding question – were the human teeth discovered more than 120 years ago from Lida Ajer cave really modern human? The techniques allowed us to identify and date ancient human teeth from this Sumatran cave.

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A snapshot of our mysterious ancestor Homo erectus

Reading time: 6 minutes
Homo erectus is now extinct. This enigmatic human ancestor probably evolved in Africa more than 2 million years ago, although the timing of their disappearance is less clear.

Homo erectus was in the news over 2018 thanks to new discoveries in the Philippines and China, which have transformed our understanding of this not too distant family member.

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