Top human evolution discoveries of last week (8/11/15)

It’s Sunday again; so lets review the latest human evolution discoveries from the past week. Perhaps the biggest development is the “contributor” button that now appears at the top of my pages. This is a new scheme by my ad network that allows you to


It’s Sunday again; so lets review the latest human evolution discoveries from the past week. Perhaps the biggest development is the “contributor” button that now appears at the top of my pages. This is a new scheme by my ad network that allows you to donate small amounts of money that “buy” ads on the site. This covers maintenance costs whilst still reducing the number of ads you’d see. Some people had suggested I opt for this sort of donation mechanism instead of adverts before, but I never thought my content was really worth paying for. However, this new system buys up adverts on every site you visit within the advertising network. In other words, you’re getting a lot more bang for your buck. As such, I feel a lot less guilty promoting it.

Admin over, onto the actual news stories:

  • Remember the sexy handaxe hypothesis? This was basically the idea that our ancestors made symmetrical tools in order to show off to mates. New research on Chinese bifaces has found that – for those tools at least – symmetry may not have been the end goal; seemingly refuting this idea. Instead, it seems to have been a bi-product of the materials and techniques used (source).
A rare handaxe with a shell embedded in the middle

How sexy is this handaxe?

  • Humans have stupidly big brains, which produce a stupidly large amount of heat. Might these be connected? Researchers speculate that cooling climates made heat generation necassary for animals, meaning humans were no longer penalised for having big brains. Might this have allowed them to evolve? (read more)

 

  • Osteoperosis – i.e. increasingly fragile bones – is a condition that afflicts many people in the developed world. A sedentary lifestyle partly contributes to this; so surely we shouldn’t see as much of it in hunter-gatherer communities? Except new research reveals we do, suggesting this is a condition that may have afflicted our ancestors before they settled down (sauce).

 

  • Chimps have a drive to conform to the group. New research reveals that migrants will abandon their cultural ways of making tools in favour of making them like their new group. They appear to be more likely to mimic high status individuals, suggesting this is an effort to get in good with their new group. Might this habit reduce innovation? (read more)
chimp culture

Chimps stick grass in their ear in an effort to conform to society

  • Schoningen is a 500,000 year old German site famous for its pointy wooden spears. But perhaps more importantly, these spears appear to have been burnt slightly in order to harden them. This would suggest hominins were controlling fire all this time ago.  However, a re-analysis of purported “hearths” from the site have found the evidence lacking. Instead, they may well have been exploiting natural fires (or the burnt spears could have been accident). Either way, their use of fire wasn’t as sophisticated as we thought (sawce).

 

  • Why do humans cry? Well, a review of research into the subject was unable to figure out why. However, they did identify a likely cause: getting attention. Crying makes people come to our aid, improving our mood. More cross-cultural work is needed to confirm this is actually a significant factor (read more).
Sad chimp is sad.

Sad chimp is sad.

That’s all for this week folks. As always feedback – particularly on the new contributor scheme – is welcome.

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