A Braided Stream?

There are however, somethings that refuse to change, things that are still taught in schools that have been fazed of the actual field for decades.

Anthropology is an ever changing field. One day it seems like we know something as fact and other days everything we know is flipped upside down. With each new find our knowledge grows but so too does our thirst to find out more. So many more questions arise as we learn new things. We have more questions to answer now, than we have ever asked before.

Today we will be focusing on one of these topics, and that topic is that of the Human Family Tree. For hundreds of years, human evolution as we have understood it has been explained using the likeness of a tree. Branching stems that come together to form bigger branches all the way until you get to the largest, united trunk. One branch at a time, in one place.

This idea was first described by Charles Darwin in the late 1800’s, and for the time it was revolutionary and helped frame the place of humans not only in their own family tree but that of the animal kingdom as well.

But we have learned a lot over the last few centuries and the way we invasion human evolutionary progression has changed, no longer is it a linear line, or tree, nor is it even a bush or shrub, but rather a braided stream running into an estuary.

Besides the pleasant imagery that comes into ones mind as they think of this, as you explore what we know about anthropology it will become more apparent that it is this model that makes the most sense.

Through fossil, and genetic evidence we have learned that the way our origins occurred was not one species at a time. Afarcanus did not turn into afarensis and that was the end of it. For a time they shared this earth, as the changes and transformations continued. As the “stream” flows.

When one continues a tree, you have the branch, lets use africanus again. The branch that the africanus branch would stem from the anamensis branch, and those two would continue onto africanus . One turning into the other as time and evolution moved on.

But as has been said, we have learned differently. Multitudes of human species coexisted on Earth at the same time, ever changing and ever flowing. Genes coming in and out, interbreeding occurring and reoccurring in different areas, while some couple with those from far and wide. The spread of genes, the gene flow just adds to the power of the river.

The braided stream model reflects more properly the path of human evolution, of how species transformed slowly over time, gaining and losing traits and species as it goes, all leading back to an original estuary and ocean.

Many people prefer the tree model, but the braided stream is the newest, and thus far most accurate representation of hominid evolution, and should be taught in schools to anthropology students, alongside, if not instead of, the family tree model.

What are your views on the new way of interpreting human evolution?

Do you still stick to the linear model? Why or why not?

Let us know in the comments below.

Darwin Day 2020!

Today, February 12th 2020 is a day that should be celebrated around the world but is unfortunately pushed under the rug.

Today is Darwin Day! Now most if not all of you should know who Charles Darwin, the father of evolution is, but just in case you do not, here is a link to a bio for him, we wont be spending time going over his whole story as there is just too much to tell!

Charles Darwin is the creator of the Theory of Natural Selection and the greatest champion of evolution the world has ever known. Through his various works we have gained an understanding of the natural world that we were completely blind to before.

Not only how all the plants and animals found their ways beside us through evolutionary paths, but even our own origins can be discovered within the pages of his works. Darwin stated that the origin of man would be from Africa, and low and behold look what we have found. All from comparative analysis and critical thinking.

Without Charles Darwin we would not understand evolution as we do today, and we must keep his spirit alive in order to keep his lessons in our schools. Evolution is not going anywhere, and neither is Darwin, but we must keep it this way and promote his work in and outside of our educational institutions.

Teaching about Darwin helps to show that the natural world is so wild and beautiful, that there is so much out there to acknowledge and respect, to understand how something came to be is to truly know its essence. It is through this that all efforts of conservation and rehabilitation of natural habitats comes from.

Without Darwin, our respect for the natural world, as it is today, would be drastically different. There was a time when nature was all that mattered to us, but as we moved into towns and cities we lost our way. Darwin helped us start to find our way back.

So here is to remembering Darwin, and continuing his work, some of the most important work of our time, or of any time. Lets keep his thoughts and ideas alive and remember him not only each year on his day, but each time we observe the world around us, and just remember, we are apart of nature not the master of it.

Interview One: Molly Selba

Here we go! Our very first, of what is hopefully going to be a long interview series! I am happy and proud to say that Molly Selba will be our first guest! A big thank you to her!

So lets get started!

  1. To start off, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself and what you do?

My name is Molly Selba and I am a PhD student in the anthropology department at the University of Florida. My research interests include comparative anatomy and cranial morphology. I am most interested in how cranial morphology (or the shape the skull) varies within and between species. 

2. What drew you to this field? 

I have always wanted to be an anthropologist! I think humans are fascinating and I enjoy studying everything about them… including their diverse and complex family tree! 

3. What do you personally hope to accomplish? 

My goal is to make human evolution more accessible to teachers across the US. Many teachers want to teach evolution but don’t necessarily have the materials or background information they need to do it… that is where I come in! I help teachers generate 3D models of hominin fossil crania and provide accompanying lesson plans in order to increase access to ‘hands-on’ learning materials for their classroom. 

4. Where do you see yourself in five years? 

In five years, I hope to have graduated with my PhD and have a job where I can still teach others about anthropology and human evolution! 

5. What is your favorite discovery and why?

I personally love the story of the discovery of Taung child. You can read more about the discovery here: https://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/284158_brain.html

6. Favorite Anthropologist? 

I really admire the work of the whole Leakey family… they made many amazing discoveries and paved the way for the field of paleoanthropology as we know it today. The Leakey Foundation continues to support anthropological research and they have a wonderful podcast called Origin Stories. You can find more information on the Leakey family here: https://leakeyfoundation.org/about/the-leakey-family/

7. What advice would you give to budding anthropologists? 

Keep asking questions! Read articles and books, visit museums if you can… there is so much to learn about what it means to be human!

8. What is your favorite project that you have worked on?

I was able to plan and host a teacher workshop for 20 educators to come to the University of Florida to learn about human evolution over the course of four days. It was an amazing experience getting to connect with these educators and help them bring human evolution into their classrooms.  

9. Do you have any suggested books? 

Thinking Big: How the Evolution of Social Life Shaped the Human Mind by Robin Dunbar, Clive Gamble, and John Gowlett is a really interesting book about the role of neuroanatomy in human evolution. 

10. What is your favorite hominid and why? 

My favorite hominid is Homo heidelbergensis – specifically, the cranium Kabwe 1. This cranium is notable for its robust facial features and the fact that it is one of the oldest known to have cavities!

Stay tuned for the next interview! If you’re interested in being interviewed, or know someone who is, have them contact me at sethchagi@icloud.com and we will see what we can do!

Thank you!

Big Data and Open Access

We live in an ever-changing world, one where new mysterious appear every day while answers to old questions are edited and changed. Sometimes it can be very hard to keep up with all of the changes. Esp if those changes are not widely known or talked about.

Traditionally in the field of Paleoanthropology, this is how it works. Someone discoverers something, it is then their job, and their duty to take it back to their labs, study it, describe it, and make multiple hypotheses to further the understanding of the field.

This can take decades and is a huge brick wall to come across when one wants to study something that has not yet been made public. It is almost impossible. One must wait until the original founder is done with their work and returns the fossils to the country of origin.

As one can imagine, this makes the progression of Paleoanthropology very slow. As new discoveries are hoarded, there is simply not enough work for everyone to do, despite the fact that there is far too much work for one team to do on anyone fossil. This is how its been for over a hundred years.

Enter Professor Lee Berger at Wits University and the era of Big Data. When A. sediba was discovered, Prof. Berger did something different than any other anthropologist, he made his work publicly available to teachers and students around the world, and again in even greater fashion with the discovery of H. naledi.

This was unprecedented. A researcher showing off his discoveries before he himself even completed or even started his research. This was a dramatic shift in the way the field works.

Sharing the massive amounts of data that was collected, and in an open way, has allowed students and teachers around the world of all grades and levels to get involved with the research and play an active role in the discoveries concerning these specimen.

As of the writing of this article, I the author can at anytime go to a website (Mophosource) and download 3D Printing files of these fossils and print them myself, have my own casts and do all of my own research based off of real specifications from the actual fossils.

While casts are not new, the availability of them is something entirely new, 3D Printing is a new and exciting way to get involved in the field.

This can only be beneficial to all those involved and it is thanks to Professor Lee Berger and his progressive thinking team. Thanks to them the world of paleoanthropology will never be the same, and not even because of the massive contributions made, but because of the way in which they were handled afterward.

Thank you, Prof. Berger, and your entire team for all the hard work you have done to bring open access and education to all. The field of paleoanthropology has room for a lot of changes left to go, but we are definitely headed in the right direction.

The Greatest Discovery of the Decade

As the 2010’s come to a close, we reflect back on the last ten years. All over the world in every discipline new and important discoveries have been made. We as a collective race have leaped forward in some ways and fallen behind in others. One area in which we have made great strides of progress is that of Anthropology. Specifically in this case, Biological or Paleoanthropological Anthropology. There have been so many important discoveries in the last decade, filling in missing holes, creating new branches and streams and the like. We thought we knew alot but what we learned has only shown us that there is so much more out there to explore.

Today we will be going over what I think is the most significant discovery of the field in the last decade. While this was a tough decision, and there are many that were tied for final place, the chosen event that we are going to be discussing today is just too perfect and fascinating to not be the greatest discovery of the decade. So lets get talking about Homo naledi.

Let’s start with the facts of the discovery and then go into my opinions (and others) on why its so important.

H. naledi first discovered in South Africa in 2013 by Prof. Lee Berger and his team in the Rising Star Cave System outside of Johannesburg is a first of its kind for many reasons. This discovery was unlike any other that we had made before, and the way in which it was handled changed the field forever.

Dating to about 250,000 years ago, these skeletons were unlike anything we had seen before.

Here is the full story:

So now we have this new species of human ancestor. Not only that, we have them in a range and number never seen before in the field. In addition to that we have the unique disposition of the bodies. Buried. Laid down with care. Not just washed into the cave.

A creature with such a mosaic of features could find its stem at the start of the Homo lineage, and yet we find them so late in the fossil record. Were they around the entire time? We may never know.

But how amazing could that be, that a creature so primitive could be observing a concept that is so advanced. Burial is something only observed in modern humans, and our closest relatives the Neanderthals, all of which were around as late as forty thousand years ago, having burial by non advanced species 250,000 years ago is just astonishing, it is nothing we felt we would observe.

Finding an animal in such quantity, buried in a cave, with no other animal remains present, or signs of flooding or other entrances, H. Naledi seems to be the earliest candidate for ritualized burial. This changes everything that we know of and think about human culture and evolution. Along with that, we have the fact that every age group is represented and well.

Fifteen individuals were discovered, as of the writing of this article, (more could be found any day), finds like this are near unprecedented. Nothing since the First Family has been found like this. Each individual opens up a window into the past to show us all that we can glean from these ancient treasures.

So why is all of this so important? Well, first of all finding a new hominid is always a critical moment for anthropology, finding one in such a remote, and desolate place is extremely rare, not even considering the fact that there were over fifteen individuals found that could have been buried by their relatives. This is just all so unprecedented.

To top it all off, how all of this information was divulged, shared and explored by the scientific community was something new. The discoverer, Lee Berger is a strong believer in open education. No more anthropologists finding fossils to keep them hidden for twenty years while they study them and no one else. Mr. Berger is about sharing that information from the get go to cast the widest web and bring in the most opinions expert or otherwise.

This new method of education in the field is something that has been a long time coming but took a great push to finally roll out. It is thanks to these discoveries that the future is laid out for the next discovery of a hominid fossil.

There you have it! Brief and to the point. There is alot more to this story but we can save that for another time. The discovery of Homo naledi is the most important in the field of paleoanthropology of the decade because of how rare, unusual, and important the find was.

What do you think was the most important discovery of the 2010’s?

The Missing Link?

April 24, 2019

The Missing Link

Who, or What is it?

There are those of us that are on the search for something so valuable that there cannot be price placed upon it. What we are talking about are the fossils of early hominids. The beings that came before us but put us on the evolutionary path that we know today. But who are these individuals and institutions that are searching for these extremely rare finds? Well, they would be Paleoanthropologists.

It is the Paleoanthropologists job to not only find fossils, but to get the most complete picture of them as possible, identifying the species, the date, practically everything they can about the discovery. The way they lived, and sometimes more importantly how they died.

There have been many discoveries the past ten years, and the naming of at least two new species of ancient hominid. These finds led to the timeline of our evolution to be filled out more, but of course not completely.

Each time we find a new fossil hominid, we think well this must be it, there are no more out there to be found. Well, as Prof. Lee Berger who made the Rising Star discoveries, likes to say, “Never Stop Exploring”. And what a true statement, there are probably more and more fossils out there to be found, but only the future will tell exactly what those finds are.

So what is this famous missing link that has been the greatest question for Anthropologists for hundreds of year? Well the idea behind it is that we have all these fossil hominids, save the one that changed us from “ape to man”. Many such finds have had this moniker, until a new, more fitting specimen was found. For years this is how the Paleoanthropology world was shaped.

But where was the missing link to be placed? At the start of the species Homo, or farther back in time between our last common ancestors with chimps? Is there such a species to be found that just makes it all make sense?

It is this missing link, that is the secret to all of human origins, finding this being, or examining what has already been found; is the dream of all young Paleoanthropologists. But will we ever find it? Only the future holds that truth. Funny we must look to the future to see more clearly in the past

Perhaps the missing link has already been found and is just not identified yet, or is it lost in the Cradle of HumanKind, who knows where else!

Okay, now it’s time to be honest with you. There is no such thing as a missing link. There, I said it. You’re probably asking yourself now, “so why am I reading this paper?” Well there are many reasons for the tale of the missing link to be told, and we are going to go over those today. From misconceptions to down right trickery, the tale of the missing link is one that continues on today.

So now we will discuss why there is in fact, no missing link and then go into some of the shenanigans that have taken place in the field. So why is there no missing link, in fact it makes perfect sense, we have chimpanzees which share 98% of their DNA with us, then there is a big gap and then there is us. Now things start to unravel. So there is supposed to be one being that bridges the gap between our last common ancestor and us. How could only one being exist?

It turns out that it does not. We in fact have an entire tree of familial relations vs. just one was never the answer. There are many hominids in our past that show a distinct line of evolution. From the Australopiths, to the early beginning of Homo, and a few here and there. While of course we cannot know with certainty how many species there were, when they lived, and even if they had interactions with modern humans. Now are you beginning to see how there is not a single missing link? It’s more of a chain, each link connected to each other, but more than that, there are chains sprouting outwards like the branches of a tree or a braided stream.

“Well hold on, Ive heard stories about the missing link being found last century, what happened to that?”

Ah yes, the wonderful Piltdown Man, possibly the greatest hoax in scientific history. As we all should know, human evolution sprouted and continued on from Africa, but a hundred years ago this answer was not sufficient for many European scientists who wanted to find the missing link in their own backyard.

“When Piltdown Man was unveiled before a meeting of London geologists in 1912, he was heralded as paleoanthropology’s “missing link,” the long-sought transitional form between modern humans and our great ape ancestor. He had a smallish skull, a chimp-like jaw, and a mixture of primitive and modern teeth to boot. Plus, he was a local; to this gathering of Brits, it would have seemed completely right and proper that humankind got its start just down the road in Sussex.

There was just one problem, he was fake.”-The Washington Post. Who would go to such lengths fo create this lie? Well there were a few culprits, and it was in 2016 that scientists made a announce,meant that they think they know who the culprit was. Long dead of courses there is not much to do about it, and the mystery will never be completely resolved.

While Piltdown Man was a fake. He did teach the scientific community a great deal. That everything is not always as it seems, and thorough investigation should be done into anything that seems odd or out of place.

It turned out that Pilddown Man was actually one of the greatest forgeries in scientific history, leading people to believe early man started out in Britain, for 40 years., Consisting of a Homo Sapiens skill, and an orangutan mandible munch work was done on the fake to make it all appear as realistic as possible. And it sure worked.

So what does the future hold for the missing link? Hopefully nothing, its an idea that needs to stop being spread around and shared. All those in the scientific community at this point know that there is no such thing. But that does not mean there is nothing to learn from it.

From hoaxes, to true science we have learned a lot about the missing link today, you are of course free to make up your own mind, but one cannot ignore the evidence.

From H. Habilis to H.Naledi and a few scattered here and there, our picture of human origins grows clearer each day, but at the same time more questions arise with each new discovery. While there may be no missing link, there is still a lot out there to discover, and the best way to do that, in the words of Paleoanthropologist Lee R. Berger, once again “never stop exploring!”

Cave of Forgotten Dreams a Review

Cave of Forgotten Dreams is a documentary created and led by Werner Herzog in 2011. It is one of if not the only documentary films about the glory that is Paleolithic art especially those of Chauvet Cave in France.

This is a documentary for all kinds of people, but the most targeted audience would have to be A. Filmmakers and B. Anthropologists of all kinds as well as curious individuals.

a. The cinematography found in this documentary is jaw draping. The music paired with the scenes, (with or without the camera crew in them) meld so perfectly together you feel as if you are there in the cave with them, seeing through their eyes. It is a remarkable experience, although it is one that compares not at all to the real thing. The camera work, and editing is fantastic, any documentary film maker would do good to watch this and use it as a template for their own documentaries.

B. The historical and cultural importance of this documentary is one that should be shown in every classroom across the world. This history pertains to our history, our shared human history dating back to near 40,000 years ago. (The documentary says 30 but new research has revealed some of the cave paintings are even older than perviously thought).

The chance to see these paintings, even in 2D on a monitor is worth more than never seeing them at all, as unfortunately most of us never will. It is awe inspiring and dare I say soul touching to see these paintings, and think, “What was going through their mind? Why here?” and so many other questions. The documentary goes into the details of the why’s and how’s, and explains in detail the artistic, and cultural importance.

This documentary is a must see for those of all interests and aspects. If you’re a human, you should see this film at least one time. To learn something about yourself you never knew.

The beautiful film will occupy your mind days after watching it, there are just so many questions and so few answers that come up when one is presented with such information. But through this film, there is so much to be seen, heard, learned, and almost felt.

IF you have not seen this film, I highly recommend watching it today, I know its on iTunes, I’m not sure about other streaming services, it did used to be on Netflix but not any longer.

If you have any questions please feel free to comment below! Here or the on the post you are seeing this on!

Ten Thousand Likes

Welcome one and all scientists alike!

We at The World of Paleoanthropology are having a give away once our Facebook Page reaches Ten Thousand Likes.

We are less than 50 likes away! Lets do this today and reach our goal!

Once we have reached our goal, a winner will be chosen at random to receive a Zinj keychain courtesy of The Leakey Foundation.

Help us get 50 likes today and enter for your chance to win!

Here is the link to our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/paleoanth/

Don’t forget to check out The Leakey Foundation either at https://leakeyfoundation.org.

Have a great and Happy Thanksgiving!

What is Paleoanthropology?

What is Paleoanthropology?

Introduction:

The world as we know it, and especially how we do not know it, is an amazing thing. We discover new things each and every day. About our present world, the future of that world, and it’s past. The more we learn, the more questions we find need answering. From the start of life on earth, to the very first of humankind, there is just so much we wonder, and do not know about. Science, is a way of looking at the world where things are proven by testing, by curiosity and the people who forward this research. For many, science almost has qualities found in the place of religion. While many scientists are religious, and maintain a connection to the divine, following the rules of science can be quite common as well.

One specific area that we strive to learn so much more about, is our own history. Yes one could follow our history back to the first one celled organisms surviving in pools of water But where most people go, is to our own history. They wonder, “Where did I come from? Where did we come from?” When studying Human Origins, what we focus on, is when we split from our closest cousins, the apes, and what the common ancestor may have been. Anthropology is the study of humans, and everything that humans do, or have done; previously, presently and into the future of where our species is headed is Anthropology. From Cultural Anthropologists who study the amazing and varied cultures of the world past and present, to the good people in the lab, using air scribes to blast dirt and rock from fossils and bone. There is so much to learn about this world, and about ourselves. It is through science, education, and Anthropology that we have any hope of learning of our origins. To learn the past, is to build the future.

So then, what is Paleoanthropology?:

So what are we even talking about here? What is Paleoanthropology? To be specific, it is the study of the origins of man. While we may look to modern, and ancient apes for clues on how our ancestors acted and survived a great deal, it is specifically the human lineage that we are referring to. From the earliest bipeds that some refuse to call human, right up to our modern-day bodies, a span of about seven million years of evolution. This time period is very gray, we know very little about this period, even less than we know about dinosaurs which lived sixty-five million years ago! There are so few fossils and tangible evidence of fossil apes and hominins, or bipedal apes that belong to our braided stream of a family. The reason for this, is while the dinosaurs were all over the earth, providing many various circumstances to preserve fossils, hominins are strictly from Africa, and the environment is not prime relegate for the creation of fossils. What we know from Paleoanthropology one day, can completely change the next.

At this point, we know more about Human Evolution than we ever have, in fact, for the first time in United States history, over 51% of the population agrees with the Theory of Evolution, but that means nothing, as new finds destroy previously held beliefs. It was once said in 2001, that there was nothing left to find, since then, multiple entirely separate species have been named and accepted.

Paleoanthropology is an ever-changing field with new information coming out weekly, if not daily. As we study Human Origins, we begin to understand ourselves, and the world we created better. Human Origins, the search for possibly the most valuable and precious items we know of, fossils, is an amazing journey that one can undertake. Either from their armchair at home, or deep in the African wilderness, searching for these fossils yourself, the adventure is never ending. “The road goes on and on, down from the door from which it came…”

In short, Paleoanthropology is the study of Human Origins, where we came from, using the Fossil Record and new DNA technology, we are learning more about ourselves than ever before. Paleoanthropology is one of the most interdisciplinary fields in science. Requiring team work between geologists, chronologists, anthropologists, biologists, archaeologists, cavers, and so many more experts, it really takes a team to come to the proper conclusions. Or, as close as we can get.

Now, some of you might be asking yourself, why does it matter? Many people explain our origins through religion and spirituality, but many depend on the modern, accepted versions of the Theory of Evolution. For some, there just is no interest, they do not ponder nor wonder where our species came from and that is ok. For those of us who care, its like an ever pulling sensation to learn more, to learn as much as you can. To learn of our origins, how we came to be on this earth, and following the evolutionary path of our ancestors, is what allows us to see our future. Knowing where we came from, can show us where we are going.

Those who find themselves in awe of this evolution, cannot learn enough. Knowing where we came from is a gift to these anthropologists. It is what their life work is about, and it can change the way in which we see the world and our place in it. Why are we so special and so different from any other animal alive today? Why are we the only hominin species to survive? (At least up to the last ten thousand years in some cases). These are the holy grail of questions. To answer them, one needs to know not only the history of Paleoanthropology itself, but the tools and methods that are used therein.

There are few things more important the grand scheme of things than where Homo sapiens came from. It is us, our past and our history, Through amazing hardships and trouble, our ancestors in one way or another survived, thrived and led themselves to where we are standing today., Ancestry is all, and that is why Human Origins is important, to understand that, and how important this information is for our species.

So where did it all begin?

The study of Paleoanthropology is a relatively new science, even when compared to other fields of Anthropology and evolution. Who knows how many thousands of years these fossils and evidence of our current situation have been lost. But it all started with a find in the Neander Valley, in Germany. Where the skull cap and leg bone of some sort of mysterious human were discovered. This was before Darwin’s very famous book The Decent of Man. Which laid the foundation for the ideas of Natural Selection and Common Decent.

We had no idea about where we came from or what these old strange fossils meant. Well, scientifically of course, there are plenty of people who had a religious explanation. But since the time of the renaissance, (not including an individual here and there), some people began to question the physical world around them, and wondered less on what lay beyond life, but rather what lay in front of them. There was the idea that we were related to the great apes of Africa, as suggested by Darwin. But no one at the time wanted to think that they were “Descended from monkeys”. One has to remember that during this period of time during the 1800s, the world was changing vastly, and Europeans were pulling ahead in the field of science, and wanted the glory of having the missing link in their very own back yard. Today, we know the damage that this superiority complex and colonial take over has caused for the study, the biases and incorrect work that has been done since that we are still trying to fix and work out to provide a better picture of the actual data.

The idea of the “missing link” came across when anthropologists and archaeologists first started to believe that we had a common ancestor with chimpanzees and other great apes, one believed that there had to be some sort of link, or connecting species that made it possible for our evolution. This did nothing to quell the fears or the hatred of the idea that we came from the apes.

As we know today, Human Evolution is not linear, and is a braided stream rather than a straight line. There is no one missing link, they are all links in our evolutionary past. Species genetic information comes in, and out of our history, in our own DNA we show traces of other species, appearing at different times and in different locations.

This want for glory by the Europeans, especially the British ended with a massive hoax that lasted for over fifty years. (If you are reading this on the night of it’s republishing, it is actually the anniversary of the unmasking of said hoax!) Piltdown man, was supposedly the missing link itself, it had the features of a modern man, and that of an ape. The scientific community went crazy, and to top it off it was found in Britain! What better luck! There was a general consensus that this was indeed what they were looking for when it came to the missing link. Fast forward half a century, and new technology revealed that this missing link was indeed fake. Using a human cranium and a mandible from an orangutan, while filing the teeth, this skull was created, and it fooled even some of the most esteemed scientists for a long time. No one is sure who pulled the hoax, but there are a few candidates; but its unlikely we will ever find out the absolute truth in this situation.

Fast forward a little more, and we have the discovery of Australopithecus africanus in South Africa, by the notable Raymond Dart. Not only did this shock the world, but it began to show that possibly, as Darwin suggested, our roots were to be found in Africa, along with the great apes. Since that time, more and more early human species have been found throughout the continent of Africa. Proving that is where we originated. None of these early humans, Australopithecines, were not found anywhere in the world save in Africa. These first bipeds and somewhat chimp/human-looking creatures are found nowhere else. The only fossils we begin to see elsewhere around the world is Homo erectus. The first species to leave the continent after their development millions of years later.

Homo erectus then began to evolve in situations to match their needs, and we have splits and other species branching off of them, leading up finally to more contemporary species, such as the Denisovans, Neanderthals and Us. It has been a long journey and the world of paleoanthropology has gone through some major changes. From scientists hiding the finds in their labs until they were ready to show them to the world, to free access publication in online journals, and the publication of free 3D files, and models.

Lee Berger, is at the fore front of this initiative, and has helped spread education far and wide with the help of notable educational professionals such as John Mead from Texas.

In short, that is a very basic introduction to the history of Paleoanthropology, there is so much more to learn and discuss of the history of the search for Human Origins I implore you to go out and do some research on your own. If we included it all here, this would be a much longer article. So go! Explore!

The Present Day and Future of Paleoanthropology:

The way in which we go about our studies of our origins, has changed much over the last few decades, from only being able to rely on the fossil record, to DNA evidence that has helped decipher some of the many codes and questions that we have about our past. Each year it seems, if not more, a new method of testing, examining and describing these fossils and DNA evidence appears. Some are more controversial than the other, but these methods not only shed light on things we did not know, but help to clarify some of the questions that we have. Even things we thought we knew about, are viable to change and to alter. As we learn more it’s apparent that we truly do not know much about where we came from. There is simply too much wonder out there in the world to properly say we know where we originated.

This leads to even more discoveries, and allows puzzle pieces to come together. As new technologies are developed, the better tools we have to study these amazing specimens. The future of Paleoanthropology, and Anthropology, in general, is very bright. New discoveries lend lifeblood to the field, and just bring up so many other questions that we may never have the answers to. But the only thing we can do is to continue exploring, and doing the research that must be done.

Conclusion:

The World of Paleoanthropology is truly an amazing one. It some of the most active scientific explorations going on in the world right now. Until recently there were more students than fossils to examine, with recent finds this has changed things in a positive way, as there is just so much research to be done. What role our origins play for you? If it works for you great. But there are some that cannot sit idle, the wanderlust is just too strong of a force, and it is because of these people that we know anything about our past at all.

The important role of knowing where we came from, is the key to our future, and where we go from here. As we understand evolution and its cause and effect not only on us but all living beings, we begin to see the connection. Yes, we are different than any other animal today, but it ways not always so drastically as one thought. It is only for the last forty thousand years that man has gone unchallenged (save in a few specific and until recently, unknown areas, aka Flores).

There is just so much left to learn that the only way is to keep exploring, and to never cease our efforts to find where we come from.

Remember, there is always more to learn!

The Importance of Lucy

The year was 1974, and a young man named Don Johanson was surveying land in Hadar, in the Afar region of Ethiopia, Africa. The day was November 24th and the scientific community would never be the same.

“They had taken a Land Rover out that day to map in another locality. After a long, hot morning of mapping and surveying for fossils, they decided to head back to the vehicle. Johanson suggested taking an alternate route back to the Land Rover, through a nearby gully. Within moments, he spotted a right proximal ulna (forearm bone) and quickly identified it as a hominid. Shortly thereafter, he saw an occipital (skull) bone, then a femur, some ribs, a pelvis, and the lower jaw. Two weeks later, after many hours of excavation, screening, and sorting, several hundred fragments of bone had been recovered, representing 40 percent of a single hominid skeleton”(https://iho.asu.edu/about/lucys-story).

This discovery is mind-blowing in so many ways. While Lucy is no longer the most complete hominin skeleton every found, she is still the most complete skeleton from 3.2 MYA. Nothing else compares to her completeness and age. (Ardi comes in at about 4.5 MYA and I was unaware of that at the time of this writing).

We can learn a lot about this A. afarensis specimen about not only their species, but about the roots of humanity all together. Getting this glimpse into the important time of around three million years ago reveals many secrets of the past, but if nothing else adds even more.

We have learned about bipedalism, diet and habitat, growth and life cycles. Sexual Dimorphism, the list goes on and on. We know more about Lucy’s species than probably any other out there. (I’d change this to Neanderthals) Why is that? Because Dr. Don Johansson is a genius.

Creating the most public and publicity driven discovery of the century, Lucy went on trips around the world, and Don is a great orator and story teller. He captivates audiences with his tales and stories from when he found afarensis. Even now, 45 years later, his story captivates the minds of the older generation down to the youngest.

As a science communicator Mr. Johanson as made great leaps in the sharing of data, and the story behind his find. There are restaurants, hotels, and sports teams named after Lucy, also known as Dinknesh in the language of Ethiopia. Which means something along the lines of marvelous one. There are few people in this day and age who have not at least heard of Lucy, and considering this discovery is almost half a century old, that is something to be proud of. Even extremely important and new finds such as Homo naledi in Rising Star, is eclipsed by the famous Lucy. (This is arguable is the Neo, and Leto announcements).

Known as an ambassador from the past, this specimen is something truly stunning to behold. Rarely are complete or near complete skeletons found, and it is unheard of prior to Lucy to find one so old. Covering over 40% of her entire body, we can reconstruct this afarensis and see not only what they would have looked like morphologicaly, but as well as how they would have moved, which gives insights to their daily and overall lives.

Lucy is often what brings people into the field, they hear her name and get curious and BAM you’re sucked into the world of Paleoanthropology.

To this day there is so much we can learn about this species, and Lucy in particular that there never seems to never be an end to the research, which is as it should be. Even today Dr. Johanson is going around giving lectures and sharing his, and Lucy’s unique story, explaining her importance, and more about what she means for the anthropological world, and our common lives all the same.

Lucy, the Australopithecus afarensis has shined a light on a time period we know very little about, and has shed light on our earliest ancestors, in a direct line, allowing us to learn and learn. Work on Lucy will probably never be finished, and that is ok. With answers come more questions and hypotheses.

The best way to keep Paleoanthropology alive, is by fueling the next generation to be as excited about the past as many of us are today. Lucy is a great starting place and a place where young ones can truly begin to get a grasp of how we got here, answering the age old question of “where did we come from?”.

Only the future, despite her long past, holds the keys to Lucy’s secrets, and the future of the science in general.

Never forget Lucy or the significance of her find, as they have shook up, and continue to shake up the walls of what we know about what it means to be human. Lucy was not human, far from it, but from her skeleton we can glean so much about our own past.

Dinknesh is truly marvelous.

Please enjoy this lecture from Dr. Johanson, recorded only this last month.