When anthropologist Vernon Scarborough and colleagues began their investigation of Tikal, an ancient Mayan city in present-day Guatemala, they only intended to confirm previous accounts of the evolution of the city’s water systems. What they found, however, could have consequences for today’s societies dealing with water shortages.
Taking advantage of the few months between 2009 and 2010 that the semi-tropical Tikal was dry, researchers had the opportunity to understand how preclassical and classical Mayans (spanning roughly 600 B.C.E. to 800 A.D.) managed to survive environmental and social conditions many haven’t, focusing on three reservoir systems: the Temple Reservoir, the Corriental Reservoir and the Palace Dam – the largest manmade hydraulic feat in the entire Mayan territory.
When the Mayans initially colonized Tikal, Scarborough said, they had the luxury of springs as principal water sources. The springs were self-replenishing in large part due to the porous limestone composition of the landscape, which allowed water to get through the ground and into the spring.
One of the outstanding mysteries of human history is how agriculture spread across Europe, replacing the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Did farmers migrate, bringing a culture of plant and animal domestication that took over? Or did local hunter-gatherer groups merely adopt ideas about those practices?
A new study in the journal Science provides new insights. Researchers suggest that farmers and hunter-gatherers were genetically distinct groups that intermingled after the migration of the agriculturally savvy people.
"These results are important because they are using ancient DNA, extracted from skeletal remains, rather than sampling living populations and making assumptions about the past," British archaeologist Colin Renfrew, who was not involved in the study, said in an e-mail.
You may be clueless about how to start a fire in the wilderness without matches or a lighter, but our ancestors may have figured it out long ago.
Scientists have uncovered evidence that humans used fire at least 1 million years ago, potentially for cooking purposes. The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The discovery of a partial foot fossil in Ethiopia suggests that our human ancestors were possibly an occasional tree-climber and an occasional upright walker.
In a search for additional clues on how and when our ancestors stopped climbing trees and started walking on two feet, scientists went to the central Afar region in Ethiopia. It’s home to some of the world's richest fossil and artifact sites, including the famous Hadar site. “Lucy,” the partial ape-human skeleton, was excavated at Hadar in 1974.
About 30 miles north of Hadar in 2009, scientists excavated a surprising set of foot bones at the Burtele palaeontological site. Scientists spent the next three years analyzing their findings before reaching a moment of eureka.
“For the first time, we have good evidence that there is indeed another hominin lineage that lived at the same time as Lucy’s species,” study co-author Bruce Latimer said in a scientific news briefing. He is an anthropologist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
Archaeology is a delicate trade, requiring discipline, dedication and, most of all, patience. Groundbreaking discoveries can take years to come to fruition.
Unless, of course, you manage to streamline the discovery process by teaching a computer to do your work for you.
At Harvard University, anthropologist Jason Ur and his colleague Bjoern Menze have programmed a computer to recognize traces of long-term human activity from satellite images, especially in ranges of the electromagnetic spectrum that are invisible to the human eye. Their new study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Newly identified partial skeletons of "mysterious humans" excavated at two caves in southwest China display an unique mix of primitive and modern anatomical features, scientists say.
"Their skulls are anatomically unique. They look very different to all modern humans, whether alive today or in Africa 150,000 years ago," said evolutionary biologist Darren Curnoe, the lead author of the study, from the University of New South Wales in Australia.
The fossils found at excavation sites in Longlin Cave, in Guangxi Province, and the Maludong Cave, in Yunnan Province, indicate that the stone-aged people had short, flat faces and lacked a modern chin. They had thick skull bones, a rounded brain case, prominent brow ridges and a moderate-size brain.
The first complete gorilla genome has been mapped by scientists giving fresh insights into our own origins.
Gorilla are the last of the genus of living great apes (humans, chimpanzees, gorillas and orang-utans) to have their DNA decoded, offering new perspectives on their evolution and biology.
"The gorilla genome is important because it sheds light on the time when our ancestors diverged from our closest evolutionary cousins around six to 10 million years ago," says Aylwyn Scally, postdoctoral fellow at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Cambridge and lead author of the report.
It was 2006 when a man approached anthropologist Coren Apicella and asked, “Have you heard about this man, Osama bin Laden? I just heard about him, and I heard he sets fire to things. I heard he’s hiding and he’s a very dangerous man.”
The man is from a society called the Hadza, one of the last remaining hunter-gatherer populations in Africa and one of the closest remaining approximations to how the earliest humans lived. This community in Tanzania is so cut off from modernity that news of bin Laden’s existence hadn’t reached this man until five years after 9/11.
America’s Protestant pastors overwhelmingly reject the theory of evolution and are evenly split on whether the earth is 6,000 years old, according to a survey released Monday by the Southern Baptist Convention.
When asked if “God used evolution to create people," 73% of pastors disagreed – 64% said they strongly disagreed – compared to 12% who said they agree.
Asked whether the earth is approximately 6,000 years old, 46% agreed, compared to 43% who disagreed.
Ordinary people evolve to have extraordinary capabilities on TV shows like “Heroes” and movies like the "X-Men" franchise. In real life, people don’t have genetic mutations that give rise to wings or telepathy, but scientists say human evolution is still happening. A new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science offers some of the best evidence so far.
Researchers at the University of Quebec at Montreal examined a very detailed database of church records for residents of Ile aux Coudres, a tiny island northeast of Quebec City, Quebec, between 1799 and 1940.