Did Cooking Make Us Human?

Today I would like to share my latest paper for my Behavioral Evolution class, I think you will like it, and I hope you will learn from it! I shall also consider this a review of the book, “Catching Fire, How Cooking Made Us Human” by Dr. Richard Wrangham!

If you enjoy what is discussed here, be sure to pick up you own copy of Catching Fire!

If you are on Academia.edu, do me a favor and check it out on there as well =)


Seth Chagi 

Dr. Christina Campbell 

Anthropology 423

November 17, 2021

Catching Fire, How Cooking Made Us Human, a Review

In “Catching Fire, How Cooking Made Us Human” by Dr. Richard Wrangham, we learn about what is possibly the most important change in human, and pre-human history. Fire changed everything that our ancestors did, from how they digested food, to how they hunted and fended off predators. Fire changed how we viewed the world, it spurred on the formation of culture as we know it today, and led to massive dietary changes that allowed for the explosion in brain size we see between H. habilis and H. erectus in the fossil record. While there is little actual evidence of fire in the fossil record, at least until much more recently, it is difficult to say for sure just exactly how the first hominins came across fire, and how they used it. What possessed them to take something that they knew would be so dangerous, and apply it in the ways that they did? We may never know for sure, but we can look at the biological changes that have brought us to be where we are today, and we can trace the very roots of our many cultures to sitting around the campfire, preparing food. Dr. Wrangham proposes the “Cooking Hypothesis” in this book, which since its publication has been widely accepted, and changed the way we view early Homo. While fire may date back much earlier than we know currently, the basis of its effects remains the same. We would not be the same without fire, it has fueled our evolution and fuels the machine of our modern world. But how? 

The book starts, as most books on Human Evolution do, with a recap of the fossil record, who is, and is not a part of our “family tree”. We learn the names of various hominins and specific specimens, and then we get into the biology of it. Discussing how these animals evolved to survive, and what they did to find shelter, safety, and for the purpose of this book, most importantly food. According to current Paleoanthropologic hypotheses, Homo habilis, “Handy Man”, was the first hominin to make and use stone tools. While this idea has been challenged since Wrangham’s book was published, the fact that they were able to scavenge, and eat meat, with the use of said tools, was a huge development in our history. What would soon become clear, was without fire, meat did not have the same effect as it does today. Fire had an important role in our early evolution into Homo. Before habilis, we had the Australopithecines, creatures that were more ape-like than human, but a far departure from our common ancestor with the great apes. They ate hard, tough food, such as roots and tubers, that had little nutrition, it was enough to survive, and our brains grew at a steady rate, but it was nothing spectacular. Soon bone marrow was discovered as a reliable, and easy food source, and that helped us along quite a bit. But because of what we ate, we had to have the right “tools” to do so. We had larger teeth, the massive molars of Zinj, and huge muscles connecting sometimes to a large sagittal crest. We had larger intestines, that were harder to handle bipedally than what we have today. We survived, we continued to evolve, and that is how it was for millions of years. But then, somehow, somewhere on the continent of Africa, lightning struck. Some curious hominin carried this fire back home or used it in situ by some miraculous reason to cook meat. With that, a new age began. Fire allowed us to cook our food, which truly unlocks the potential nutritional value of not only meat but fibrous plants as well. Digestion became a much easier task, requiring less energy. This was diverted to brain growth, and we could walk, and run in more efficient ways as our guts shrank, a more anatomically modern human morphology took place. All of this was brain food, and in what is an extremely short time geologically, our brains exploded in size. Going from around 750cc in an adult male habilis to 1200cc erectus, which very close to our volume. The modern human body was beginning to truly take shape, and with the growth of our brains, many more changes were to come.

 

With the newly freed up energy from digestion going straight to brain development, many morphological changes occurred to the skull of erectus. As erectus moved around the world, it became more adapted to its environment, which would have been impossible without the nutrients brought on by cooked food. With fire, food became physically easier to chew, which led to smaller teeth than our contemporaries, and smaller chewing muscles as well. This led to a reduction in skull size, and prognathism, which created a more “modern” looking face. Erectus fossils are found around the world. Their behavior, their skills, dare we say their culture dare, was something the planet had never seen before, and this was because of the changes that fire brought to their brains. We can only presume that erectus hunted, with their ability to run long distances. It is supposed they were very like modern-day hunter-gatherers still present in Africa. They would hunt, bring back the food, and cook it. Cooking takes time. The hominins would have to sit around a fire, waiting for the food to be prepared. They had to learn how to be patient, to be social, how to behave, and how to work together to achieve common goals for not only the small family units but for the group as a whole, started to become critically important. A new behavior not seen prior. Erectus went from only being able to be active during the day, the diurnal creatures that they were, but with the introduction of fire, suddenly traveling, and possibly even hunting at night became more plausible, albeit dangerous still. The cultural implications of having fire could very well be what set us on the road to where we are today, as the earth’s most social creatures. Sitting around the fires, we can imagine that storytelling perhaps had its first roots, that language and communication reached a level not seen in other primates, unique to us. Would any of this have happened without fire? Without cooked food? 

As discussed previously, fire also had a major effect on our physical bodies from early on. Evolution occurs when there is a need to adapt to a new environment, or challenges in ones environment. With the earth’s ever-changing climate, the fluctuations have been something that we have been dealing with for millions of years and we have learned a trick or two, but it has not by far been easy. Homo erectus had to adapt, culturally and physically if it were to become the most successful hominin, even against us arguably, in the history of the world. Fire fueled that change, that evolution. The bodies of homo erectus were different than anything we had seen before, which was arguably quite more “ape-like” than human. When we look into the orbits of Nariokotome Boy, we see, possibly for the first time, a true sense of humanity as we recognize it today. The expansion of the brain that occurred around 1.5-2 MYA was, proportionately, unheard of in the animal kingdom. Almost doubling in size compared to their predecessors, erectus was able to do things no hominin had ever been able to do. Reaching all through Eurasia, almost into Europe, and down to Polynesia and the tip of the land. They had the brainpower to do it, they had the toolset to make these remarkable treks and changes that would lead them to us. And it all started with cooking, and allowing our bodies to better digest food that we found. We went from being the hunted, who scavenged for food on the ground, to the hunter, with a bountiful supply of prey for an ever-growing brain. 

According to the FDA website, an adult human male, ages 30 and up, should consume anywhere between 1800-2500 calories a day to maintain a healthy weight depending on activity level. For an animal of our size, that is a massive amount of energy consumption, and most of it is used by our brains alone, 20% in fact. For early hominins, especially those before eating raw meat, it would have been nearly impossible to achieve such a massive intake, especially in groups. With the discovery of fire, less became more. We could unlock the potential of raw foods, and we took every advantage of this that we could. Our brains could finally be unshackled. We truly became what one could say is recognizably human, compassion, care, possibly love, became possible in erectus with the advanced social and behavioral skills that they would have been forced to develop to survive in the ways that they did. Today, fire heats our homes, indirectly now, but it powers the machine of the city. The Industrial Revolution would never have happened without the discovery and use of fire to its fullest. Our modern world, let alone our modern bodies, would never have existed had we not taken that giant leap, and changed the world forevermore. Fire is sacred in so many cultures around the world, and it’s easy to understand why. Often a gift of knowledge or life, fire is the literal light in the darkness, and it puts warmth in our bellies. Next time you stare into a flame, remember what it has done for you, feel the voices of all those millennia of generations that have gone before who would not have without this magical, dangerous, unpredictable, godly, force. In “Catching Fire…” by Dr. Richard Wrangham, the author truly presents a hypothesis that is hard to counter, and, in my mind one that will one day become an even more recognized theory, as we learn more about our lives and development into anatomically modern humans today. 

The Importance of Lucy (Revisited)!!!

One of the first blog posts I made! Check it out!

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.

The First Human Burial? Revisited!

Well, in the wake of the announcements of the Leti discovery, I found this old paper I wrote years ago, before getting really involved with Paleoanthropology, and thought it would be interesting, in retrospect to see my thoughts on this topic then, vs. what we see now in the Leti discovery, which you can learn about here.

The Case for the First Human Burial 

When one considers a burial, the most basic thing that comes to mind is someone or something being buried in the ground. While this is true, when viewed from an anthropomorphic point of view, there is alot more to it. 

A burial goes from being dropped into the ground, to ritualized intent, where there is care given to the individual not only for its physical body but for its afterlife as well. 

Today we are the only known species of, well any animal that buries it’s dead. It’s something that marks us as unique. But it has not always been this way. 

Red Ochre on Bone

We have evidence that before us, or alongside with us, Neanderthals ( a close human relative) buried their dead as well. We have substantial proof of these burials from sites in the middle east. 

The oldest modern human burial that we know of today comes from Qafzeh, Israel. Here modern human individuals were found stained with Red Ochre and were discovered with various burial goods, which one would assume could only be for the afterlife. These finds date to about 100,000 years ago. 

So that is it right? There is the case for the first true human burial, in Skhul Cave, At Qafzeh. Well not necessarily. There is in fact evidence and a high probability that these are not the first human burials we know of. At least as of 2013. 

Qafzeh 9

But I guess it all goes back to the idea of what you consider human. If we are only speaking of Modern Humans or Neanderthals then the picture becomes more clear, despite how fuzzy it remains. 

But what is a human? If we are talking about us, Homo sapiens it can be more obvious. But we are but one of many human, or hominid species that have existed thorough out time. In 2013 Dr. Lee Berger and his team announced the discovery of a never before seen hominid species. Dubbed H. naledi, this would be a ground breaking discovery. In fact it is what we rated as the top discovery of the last decade. 

What was so amazing about this find? Well, there are many reasons, and if you have read our posts before or know the stories you will know what we are talking about. In short, we have new hominids, in a new area, doing new things, and a large collection of them.We found over fifteen individuals, in various forms of completeness, and suddenly there was so much to study and learn! 

The hominins were found deep, and we mean deep in a cave system called Rising Star. They were found in a chamber within the cave system, somewhere that would be very hard for any animal to access with the current, and predicted geological features found at the site. There is only one way in, and it seems to have been that way for millions of years. 

With no other animal deposits in the cave it was clear this place was not accessed on the frequent, at least not just by anyone. With no signs of predation, habitation, flooding, or accidental deposition, how did all of these individuals get there? And so we have the dilemma. 

Was Homo naledi, which has been dated to about 250k years ago, burying its dead? Millenia before modern humans or neanderthals? Lee Berger and his team would like us to believe so. 

And to be honest, it’s hard to argue against, there is a counter to every argument that has been presented thus far leaving nothing but some sort of intentional disposition. Most likely, the dropping of these individuals down a narrow shoot used to access the chamber. 


So, what do you think now? It seems the idea for Naledi interring its own dead with some sort of intent! Once the plausible is ruled out, there is only the impossible!

Interview #26-Dr. Henry Gee!!!

As a senior editor at the world renown Scientific Journal Nature, I was surprised when Dr. Gee approached me, and offered to have an early copy of his book sent to me for review. Let’s just say I was a little in shock that someone who had such a prolific career would be interested in my opinion, but you bet I snatched up that opportunity as fast as I could! Let me just say, as you will hear, if you have not already read the review (Catch that Here), I really, really like this book. And thats not just because I am part of the release campaign 😉 It really is a great book.

Firstly, its nice, despite how much I love it, to do something involving science a little outside of my typical field of Anthropology, do not get me wrong, there is plenty of that in this great little book, about a solid third of it, but the story prior is just as amazing and interesting. I truly learned so much.

Releasing Nov. 9th 2021, A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth by Dr. Henry Gee is not a book for STEM educators or enthusiasts to miss!

I loved spending the time I did with Dr. Gee, he is truly a funny, and passionate guy! We had a great chat, that could have gone on for hours, and would have had “Leti”, the new H. naledi child skull found by Lee Berger et al. not been announced immediately prior at five in the morning!

I am honored to call Dr. Henry Gee, author, and editor at Nature among many other things, as one of our guests here at W.O.P.A. Hopefully we can continue to work together to promote science education!

Please watch, and let me know what you think!

Seth Chagi
Project Director

A Child from the Darkness of Rising Star…

Well Good Morning! 

What an exciting day it is for the World of Paleoanthropology, anthropology, and archaeology in general! 

I had the delight of waking up at 5 am this morning, (did I just say delight?) to watch the live press conference delivered by Dr. Prof. Lee Berger and his esteemed international team of scientists who have been working the past few years, almost a decade now, on the Rising Star Cave System, now famously known for being the richest Hominin fossil site in all of Africa, and in all of History in fact.

I am of course talking about Homo naledi. One of the newest species to join our braided family stream. 

H.naledi is an amazing mosaic of evolution, a creature that by everything we know about Human Origins, should not really exist, at least not when and where it did. Dating to 230-340kya, these fossils show that Naledi was actually walking the African Savannah’s right alongside us, and possibly other hominin species. 

Did we interact? Was there ad-mixture? These are questions that we find difficult to answer based on the present evidence and lack of DNA, but we have learned a great deal about H.naledi from it’s morphology of the over 2000 fossil fragments (Give or Take) that have been recovered thus far, and as Prof. Berger is known to say, “Never Stop Exploring!”

Homo naledi was a small, surprisingly ancient looking (but with modern features such as the hands and feet) hominin that inhabited at least the range of South Africa, as far as we know as of the writing of this. We do not know much about their behavior…but one possible detail is becoming ever more clear. 

Did Homo naledi ritualistically bury their dead? Well, today’s revelations may shed more light on that! 

So just what exactly was announced today? I would like to present to you all, Leti. 

“An international team of researchers, led by Professor Lee Berger from Wits University, has revealed the first partial skull of a Homo naledi child that was found in the remote depths of the Rising Star Cave in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site near Johannesburg, South Africa.”-Wits University 

This is an absolutely stunning find, one that is nearly unmatched in its rarity. Hominin children skulls are one of the hardest things to come by, and Human Fossils are some of the rarest items in the world to begin with!

Please read the following information, provided by Dr. Berger and Wits University to learn all about this amazing, and stunning find that was just announced less than an hour ago! 


“An international team of researchers, led by Professor Lee Berger from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa (Wits University) has revealed the first partial skull of a Homo naledi child that was found in the remote depths of the Rising Star cave in Johannesburg, South Africa. 

Describing the skull and its context in two separate papers in the Open Access journal, PaleoAnthropology, the team of 21 researchers from Wits University and thirteen other universities announced the discovery of parts of the skull and teeth of the child that died almost 250,000 years ago when it was approximately four to six years old. 

The first paper, of which Professor Juliet Brophy of Wits and Louisiana State University is lead author, describes the skull, while the second paper, of which Dr Marina Elliott is the lead author describe the context of the area and circumstances in which the skull was discovered. 

The child was found in an extremely remote passage of the Rising Star Cave System, some 12 meters beyond the Dinaledi Chamber, the original site of discovery of the first Homo naledi remains that were revealed to the world in 2015.  

“Homo naledi remains one of the most enigmatic ancient human relatives ever discovered,” says Professor Lee Berger, project leader and Director of the Centre for Exploration of the Deep Human Journey at Wits University and an Explorer at Large for the National Geographic Society. “It is clearly a primitive species, existing at a time when previously we thought only modern humans were in Africa. Its very presence at that time and in this place complexifies our understanding of who did what first concerning the invention of complex stone tool cultures and even ritual practices.”

Almost 2000 individual fragments of more than two dozen individuals at all life stages of Homo naledi have been recovered since the Rising Star cave system was discovered in 2013.

“This makes this the richest site for fossil hominins on the continent of Africa and makes naledi one of the best-known ancient hominin species ever discovered,” says John Hawks, a biological anthropologist and lead author of a previous study on the fossil skeleton of a male naledi nicknamed “Neo” that was also found at the Rising Star cave.

The skull of the child presented in the current study was recovered during further work in the cramped spaces of the cave in 2017. The child’s skull was found alone, and no remains of its body have been recovered. The team have named the child “Leti” (pronounced Let-e) after the Setswana word “letimela” meaning “the lost one”. Leti’s skull consists of 28 skull fragments and six teeth and when reconstructed shows the frontal orbits, and top of the skull with some dentition. 

 “There were no replicating parts as we pieced the skull back together and many of the fragments refit, indicating they all came from one individual child,” says Darryl de Ruiter, a palaeoanthropologist who previously led a study of the adult skull of H. naledi and who is a co-author on the paper. 

“This is the first partial skull of a child of Homo naledi yet recovered and this begins to give us insight into all stages of life of this remarkable species,” says Juliet Brophy, who led the study on Leti’s skull and dentition.

The discovery of a hominin child skull is an extremely rare find in the fossil record as juvenile remains tend to be thin and extremely fragile. “Having skull remains associated with teeth of the same individual is extremely important for understanding the growth and development of this species,” says Christopher Walker, an expert in growth and development.

Leti’s brain size is estimated at around 480 to 610 cubic centimetres. “This would have been around 90% to 95% of its adult brain capacity,” says Debra Bolter, co-author on the paper and a specialist in growth and development. “The size of Leti’s brain makes it very comparable to adult members if the species found so far,” says Bolter. 

It has yet to be established how old Leti’s remains are. However, since other fossils of Homo naledi were found in the nearby Dinaledi Chamber and dated to between 335 and 241 thousand years ago, Tebogo Makhubela, part of the geological team investigating the discovery believes that it is likely that Leti is from a similar period, based on preservation and proximity.  

Leti’s remains were discovered in a tight passage that measures only 15 centimetres wide and 80 centimetres long and was located just beyond an area named the “Chaos Chamber”. 

“The area where Leti was found is part of a spiderweb of cramped passages,” says Maropeng Ramalepa, a member of the exploration team responsible for bringing the remains to the surface. Marina Elliott, one of the original “Underground Astronauts” in the first Rising Star expedition that originally uncovered Homo naledi and the leader of the excavation team that recovered Leti described the challenge of excavating Leti as “very difficult”. “This was one of the more challenging sites with hominin fossils we have had to get to in the Rising Star system,” says Elliott.

Since its discovery the Rising Star cave system has become one of the most prolific sites of discovery for hominin fossils in the world. Berger says that work is continuing throughout the cave system and that soon new discoveries are likely to shed further light on whether these chambers and passages are in fact a burial ground of Homo naledi, as the team originally hypothesised. 

“I do not believe there is another site quite like Rising Star,” says Steve Churchill, a palaeoanthropologist and co-author on both papers. “This is now the third locality we have described from this system with naledi remains, and we know through exploration that there are other localities.” 

With no signs of carnivore damage or damage made by scavenging, and no evidence of the skull having been washed into the narrow passage, the team does not know how Leti’s skull came to rest, alone, in such a remote and inaccessible part of the system. The authors hypothesise that it is likely other members of its species were involved in the skull reaching such a difficult place.  

“The discovery of a single skull of a child, in such a remote location within the cave system adds mystery as to how these many remains came to be in these remote, dark spaces of the Rising Star Cave system,” says Berger. “It is just another riddle among many that surround this fascinating extinct human relative.”

For more information contact:

Professor Lee Berger (South Africa)

Lee.berger@wits.ac.za

(+27) 83 454 6309

Dr Juliet Brophy (USA)

jbrophy@lsu.edu

1 847 846 3325

Dr Marina Elliott (Canada)

mce4@sfu.ca

+1 (825) 994-9454

Links

Download the media pack

https://cutt.ly/6RKJDti

Video link (please use on your website)

https://youtu.be/DkpMfQKPQRo Video will go live on date and time that embargo lifts.

Wits University’s centenary celebrations

https://wits100.wits.ac.za

More on Homo naledi 

https://www.wits.ac.za/homonaledi/

More Wits Research News

http://www.wits.ac.za/news/latest-news/research-news/

More Wits Research Videos

More Wits research stories in Wits’ Research Magazine, Curios.ty

https://www.wits.ac.za/curiosity/“- Wits University 

They have even had the foresight and were nice enough to provide us with an already prepared Fact Sheet and Q/A to answer some of your most basic questions! 


Q/A

“What does the name of the child “Leti” mean?

The word “Leti” is short for “Letimela” which means “the lost one” in the Setswana language. Setswana is one of South Africa’s 11 official languages and one of the languages commonly spoken in the part of South Africa where Leti was discovered. The word “naledi” means “star” in the Sesotho language, and the word “Dinaledi” means “stars”.

Was Leti a male or female?

We do not know if Leti was a male or female. Future studies using such methods as ancient proteins may establish its sex.

Where in the Rising Star cave system was Leti found

The Rising Star cave system has more than two kilometres of passages and chambers. Leti was found in an extremely narrow passage that is 15cm wide by 80 cm in length. The fragmented remains were found on a shelf of limestone about 80cm above the present cave floor. The passage is about 12 meters away from the Dinaledi Chamber and adjacent to a chamber known as the “Chaos Chamber”.  

Could the skull have been carried there by a scavenger or predator, or been washed into the passage?

How the skull of the child came to rest in this remote location remains a mystery. However, there is no visible predator or scavenger damage on any parts of the skull, nor is there any evidence that suggests that the sediments surrounding Leti have been moved by water or other means, that may have resulted in the depositing of the skull into this remote location.

Was Leti buried?

It is not known whether Leti was buried in the passage or whether her bones were placed there. The situation is very similar to the way Neo, and adult male Homo naledi from the Lesedi Chamber of the Rising Star system, in that he was also found in a narrow passage. However, there have been no remains of Leti’s body found yet. The situation where Leti’s skull was found is very difficult to access, making excavation difficult, but at this stage it appears that only Leti’s skull was in the passage.

How old was Leti when she died?

Based on dental eruption, Leti would have been about 4 to 6 years old when she died if she matured like a human. But at present we have not established exactly how fast Homo naledi children grew, so it is possible she was younger.

How big was Leti’s brain?

While her brain is only preserved in fragments, comparison of the curvature and length of these remains lets us compare her brain to similar sized individuals like the Taung skull of Australopithecus africanus, which has a very similar sized braincase it appears.  Thus, we can estimate that Leti’s brain capacity would have been around 450 to 610 cubic centimetres.  Based on her developmental age, this would mean Leti’s brain would be about 90 to 95% of its adult size when she died. Her adult brain size would therefore have been similar to other members of her species had she reached adulthood.

Did Leti look the same as other Homo naledi individuals?

One of the important aspects of Leti’s discovery is that she has skull fragments associated with teeth. These are the first skull fragments of a child of Homo naledi described so far and so they can only be compared to adult crania at this time. However, the shape of the front of the skull, know as the glabella is preserved and is very similar in shape to adult naledi’s in this region. Leti’s teeth are all very similar to those of other Homo naledi in their shape, size and form. 

Do we know how Leti died?

There are no signs of injury on Leti’s skull, although it is in many fragments, so we don’t know what caused her death. 

How long ago did Leti live?

We cannot date the area where Leti was discovered but the remains of other Homo naledi found nearby date to between 236,000 and 335,000 years ago and at this time it is hypothesised that Leti is the same age as these nearby remains.

Did Leti walk upright?

Since we don’t have any bones from Leti’s body we have to look at those of other specimens of Homo naledi to establish how they walked and these all walked on two legs.  As Leti’s skull and teeth don’t differ from other remains of naledi discovered, it is rather certain she also walked upright like her relatives. 

Why is Leti’s skull important?

As this is the first skull remains of a child of Homo naledi discovered, and because there were teeth discovered in association with the skull remains, we can begin to develop a better understanding of the growth and development of the species. The adult anatomy of Homo naledi is already among the best known for any ancient hominin species and Leti’s adds to our understanding of how this remarkable species “grew up”. “- Wits University 

Grab the two papers here:

A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth: 4.6 Billion Years in 12 Pithy Chapters by Dr. Henry Gee, a Review!

***Update***:
-Catch our interview with Dr. Henry Gee right here!
-The books debut date has been moved from the 2nd to the 9th.

Are you on Academia.edu? Check this article out for me on there, and participate in the discussions!

Dr. Henry Gee, a Senior Editor at the esteemed, and one of the oldest scientific journals in the world, Nature, is coming out with a new book! This book, A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth: 4.6 Billion Years in 12 Pithy Chapters, Is a wonderful telling of, well us, and everything you see around you, and how you got here.

In A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth, Henry Gee zips through the last 4.6 billion years with infectious enthusiasm and intellectual rigor. Drawing on the very latest scientific understanding and writing in a clear, accessible style, he tells an enlightening tale of survival and persistence that illuminates the delicate balance within which life has always existed.

How we got here. Understanding, and learning this is a key to understanding where we are today, and where we are going tomorrow.

The history of this planet, of Earth, in one book! While of course, with the vast amount of time that is covered, it is impossible to go into detail in just about anything, but the author maintains a well-paced timeline of important events that summarize just what is going on to our planet at the time. From the start of our galaxy to the end of our planet’s long and tenuous life, this book covers everything in a well explained and honestly, just fun way. Reading this book is easy, aside from the names of all the unique species of animals discussed, but for those unfamiliar with scientific lingo if you break it down you start to see patterns and pick up on the names. This book was written for everyone in mind, and I think that Dr. Gee does a wonderful job at conveying all of this information. So, let’s get on with our review! 

To start the book, we begin with the start of it all. At least all that we know as we currently understand it, the Big Bang. Illustrated with words beautifully, the cosmos and how it works are explained eloquently and in a way that makes such ideas as physics and astronomy easy to understand. It brings the stars down to the readers and makes them feel the cosmic dust in their bones, or at least that’s how I felt! From there, we go through the physical formation of the Earth as a planet, from the molten rock that it started as, to the burning Hell hole that it was, as acid filled the air. To the start, finally, 3.4 bya, when life finally started. It started small, single-celled organisms in the seas, living off of the basic nutrients that were available. We follow their lives through the eons and epochs of earth’s history, once again guided by a voice that becomes all too familiar, and one feels that they are in a time machine, with a tour guide explaining all that you see before you. It is unlike any other book on this time period I have ever read, and I would suggest anyone who is looking for understanding the ideas of how Life in general began, this is a good place to start. 

Skipping ahead, we go through time, from one great extinction to another, and we learn of some of the fantastic beasts and creatures that lived in-between them. Their rise and fall. We discuss the dinosaurs, these amazing creatures, and how they evolved into the titans that they were. We explore ideas and continue on through time, viewing it all like a window passing by, we see the dinosaurs die. We see the world go through the tumult as it had never been through before. The asteroid that wiped the earth out, would be the key in setting up our deep ancestors for success, which eventually would lead to us. 

Bringing us to the third section that I have divided this book into, we see the rise of mammals, and other small creatures after the remnants of the dinosaurs’ ashes covered the Earth. And yet, as is the key idea that I believe this book is trying to convey, is Life found a way. Despite all of the challenges that it had faced up until that point, Life was able to continue, and find new ways to grow to extremes and diversify in ways it had never done before. Towards the end of the book, we finally come to where we come in, and what a small section there is about us. This is appropriate, for, in the grand scheme of geologic time, we have, to take a word from the title, left a pithy mark on this planet. From there, we go into the future, discussing how Humanity’s population will finally begin to drop in 2100, and how after a few tens of thousands of years after that, we will be extinct, like so many other organisms that have gone before us. 

If one continues to read, past the end of the book, and into the epilogue the tone changes, it is not all death and despair, and Dr. Gee even points out that he is only discussing life on THIS planet, not denying it could be found elsewhere, or that even we humans, despite how challenging may be able to find a habitable location elsewhere in this galaxy and beyond. I share a slightly more hopeful view, I think our species, as inventive as it is, will find a way, as it always has. For better or worse we are a species that is always on the edge, on the edge of immense technological power, or on the edge of complete destruction. When Humans are pushed to extreme lengths and life or death situations, as a species we seem to find a way. And I do not see that coming to an end any time soon. A (Very) Short History of Life non-Earth: 4.6 Billion Years in 12 Pithy Chapters is an excellentbook I would recommend to all readers who find themselves interested in the history of Earth. From the extremely distant past and the start of life itself, to what may be our last battle on this planet, it is poignant and critical to understand where we are now, and why we have the challenges that we face today. In the scheme of things, we are a small blip, but as Dr. Gee says, and as is quoted in the book, this just makes it an even more convincing time to give life everything we have got. 

10/10

Once its available (it may be in your country already) tomorrow, be sure to grab a copy from your local book stores, or here on amazon and other book sellers!

Be sure to catch my interview with Dr. Henry Gee which comes out later this week! We will discuss the book, what its about, and some great topics! Its going to be great!

Thanks, as always, there is always more to learn!

Seth Chagi

***Content Update***

***ATTENTION***

I am excited to announce the following:At least at the current pace, and as things are going now, #WOPA will be sharing be posting Interviews and Morphology Videos on an alternating bi-weekly basis. AND, a paper published on our Academia at least once a week.

If you have any comments and or questions or would like to help out, let me know!

And if youre interested on being on the show, or me reviewing your work, get in touch with me as well 😉 Direct Message or email, whatever works!

Blog posts will continue on our blog as usual, with news being reported and content shared and created as normal, the more scholarly the topic, it will end up in Academia.

You can find me here: csun.academia.edu/SethChagi

Everything else can be viewed on our website worldofpaleoanthropology.org

So we have a good amount of content being created and coming out! And of course as all of this is going on, we are here for the community to educate and make things accessible to all!

And of course, as all of this is going on, we are here for the community to educate and make things accessible to all! on the show, or me reviewing your work, get in touch with me as well 😉 Direct Message or email, whatever works!

worldofpaleoanthropology@21donna

Seth Chagi
Project Director

Interview #25! Chats with an Underground Astronaut!

This time on the show we have another awesome guest, Becca Peixotto! One of the original Underground Astronauts called into service by Dr, Lee Berger in 2013, she has had a wild ride ever since! 

From going deep underground and working with some of the best minds in Anthropology, to having her image made of wax as part of an art piece showing off the potential of Women in STEM! 

An educator, explorer, archaeologist, and down right awesome gal, Becca was a wonderful guest to have on the show! We would be happy to have her back any time! 

I hope you enjoy the interview, if you have any comments or questions please feel free to contact me and let me know! All comments and questions/criticisms are welcome! 

Let us know what you think! 

If you would like to be on our show, please contact us at worldofpaleoanthropolo@gmail.com


Thanks, and Enjoy! 

Seth 

Project Director 

Newly Discovered Fossil Footprints Carry Implications for Cause of Megafaunal Extinctions

By Claire Brandes

Within North American archeology, conventional wisdom has it that the Clovis people represent the continent’s earliest occupation around 12,000 years ago, after the ice sheets of the Last-Glacial Maximum, which would have made it impossible to travel via Beringia, receded. These early hunter-gatherers have long been blamed for the downfall of many megafaunal species, including the wooly mammoth. Not only are they known for their distinctive spear points thought to have been used to hunt large game, the extinction event during which 35 genera of North American megafauna met their demise occurred roughly in tandem with the arrival of the Clovis people. However, new research suggests that this damning evidence may turn out to be merely circumstantial, after all. 


Fossilized human footprints discovered in White Sands National Park, New Mexico have provided new evidence surrounding the peopling of the Americas that may exonerate the Clovis people. Researchers involved analyzing the footprints applied radio-carbon dating to seeds found in sediments surrounding the footprints as well as the layers above, and below. Their results, published in one of the most prestigious academic journals, Science, date the footprints to 23,000 years ago, pushing humans’ arrival in the Americas back by millennia.   


Even more interesting are the mammoth tracks found in the stratigraphic layers meters above the footprints’ location. As it turns out, early Americans coexisted with megafaunal species for much longer than previously thought. Dr. Sally Reynolds, paleontologist at Bournemouth University and co-author of the publication, commented, “It may well be that the humans were harvesting these megafauna as part of their killing and their hunting more sustainably in the earlier years, and potentially through time, as the populations grew, the balance of power shifted and the humans started perhaps overharvesting these megafauna.” 


In accordance with this theory, several scholars have produced studies that suggest early humans were incapable of causing the complete collapse of the megafauna all on their own. Researchers with the University of Utah Department of Anthropology, David Byers and Andrew Ugan concluded that based on the caloric value of a mammoth, early hunters would have expended more energy than gained by exploiting these animals as a food source, thus discounting the plausibility of large-game specialization in the Pleistocene. Nonetheless, researchers have found definitive proof that early humans must have at least occasionally hunted megafauna based on archaeological kill sites attributed to the Clovis people. 


In summary: while early humans certainly hunted megafauna, it is unlikely that they relied on these species to sustain them. Furthermore, fossilized footprints suggest that people arrived in the Americas long before megafaunal extinctions began to occur. Where does this leave us? In line with Dr. Sally Reynold’s thoughts about the matter it seems most likely that, while humans were able to hunt megafauna sustainably, something happened that caused overharvesting to occur. One possible cause is the climate change that occurred during the Pleistocene epoch. Complicating this debate, it remains unclear when continuous occupation of North America truly occurred. Are these fossil footprints indicative of a large human population in the area? 


Despite the uncertainties that remain, this discovery provides an amazing look into the past, and is celebrated by paleoanthropologists as we continue to uncover details about human origins.

Learn More:


Author: Claire Brandes is a 4th year anthropology major at the University of Georgia with interests in paleoanthropology and paleoecology. She intends to enroll in an anthropology PhD program for the Fall of 2022. 


References:

Bennett et al. (2021). Evidence of humans in North America during the Last Glacial Maximum. Science, 373, 1528-1531. 

Bulte, E., Horan, R. D., & Shogren, J. F. (2005). Megafauna extinction: A paleoeconomic theory of human overkill in the Pleistocene. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization59(3), 297-323.

Byers, D. A., & Ugan, A. (2005). Should we expect large game specialization in the late

Pleistocene? An optimal foraging perspective on early Paleoindian prey choice. Journal of Archaeological Science, 32(11)1624-1640.

Gershon, L. (2021, September 24). Prehistoric footprints push back timeline of humans’ arrival in North America. Smithsonian Magazine. 

Neanderthal Symposium Updates!!!!

Join us for a Symposium on Neanderthals featuring Dr. Chris Stringer, Rebecca Wragg-Sykes, and Prof. Tom HIgham!


A World-leading panel of experts on Neanderthals, this is not going to be something to miss!!!!


This event is not live but will be posted on the 16th of January, vs. the 15th. (Time difference issues).

All four of us are utterly excited to be bringing this to you! We will open up the questions for the Q/A a few weeks before the event!

Each panelist will have a ten minute presentation, and then partake in a half hour Q/A discussion!

Its going to be great!

Stay tuned and spread the word!

Facebook Event: