Best evidence so far that humans are still evolving, scientists say
Humans are still evolving, scientists say, but don't expect any winged mutants like this one from "X-Men: The Last Stand."
October 3rd, 2011
03:00 PM ET

Best evidence so far that humans are still evolving, scientists say

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.

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Your thoughts on evolution
Researchers found hand bones of an adult female Australopithecus sediba in Malapa, South Africa.
September 12th, 2011
12:56 PM ET

Your thoughts on evolution

We knew our story on a possible human ancestor called Australopithecus sediba would be controversial, but never expected more than 1,900 comments to come in.

The post generated some pretty intense discussions involving readers who do not believe these new findings - or any evidence of human evolution, for that matter - because of their religious beliefs. FULL POST

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Filed under: Human ancestors • On Earth
September 8th, 2011
01:09 PM ET

'Lucy' discoverer: Why I study human evolution

Donald C. Johanson is the director of the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University.   He discovered the 3.18 million year old skeleton popularly known as "Lucy."

My deep commitment to understand the origins of humankind was ignited when I read Thomas Henry Huxley’s 1863 book "Man’s Place in Nature." The core idea that gripped my teenage mind was the suggestion that humans and African apes shared a common ancestor that roamed Africa millions of years ago.

I was riveted by the 1959 discovery of a 1.8 million-year-old skull at Olduvai Gorge and I knew that I wanted to travel to Africa and join the search for our ancestors. The allure of conducting fieldwork in remote unexplored regions of Africa dominated my thoughts throughout my undergraduate and graduate studies.

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Filed under: Human ancestors • Voices
September 8th, 2011
10:00 AM ET

Ancient fossils question human family tree

At a family reunion of the direct evolutionary predecessors of our species, there would be a lot of arguing over whether Australopithecus sediba gets in the door.

Australopithecus sediba is the name of an ancient species discovered in South Africa in 2008. Researchers now have substantial evidence, published in this week's edition of the journal Science, that Australopithecus sediba could be a direct ancestor of the Homo genus, of which humans are a part (we are Homo sapiens). If that's true, it means our family tree may have to be redrawn, with Australopithecus sediba at the stem of the Homo line.

But that's just one possibility, and a controversial one at that.

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Feeling like a Neanderthal? Here's why
Research shows many humans are part Neanderthal, like this reconstruction at a German museum.
July 26th, 2011
10:47 AM ET

Feeling like a Neanderthal? Here's why

(CNN) - Apparently, there's a bit of Neanderthal in many of us, according to a newly released study.

Research says modern humans of non-African heritage have distant genetic ties to Neanderthals - cousins of modern humans who went extinct 30,000 years ago.

Published in Oxford Journals' "Molecular Biology and Evolution," the study backs up previous theories that humans and Neanderthals mated and had offspring.

The research is based on analysis of more than 6,000 DNA samples gathered from all populated continents.

In most of the samples, part of the human X chromosome called the haplotype shared a DNA sequence with the Neanderthal genome, said University of Montreal Professor Damian Labuta, who lead the study for CHU Sainte-Justine Research Center. But the Neanderthal sequence was not present in haplotype taken from people with sub-Saharan African heritage.

Neanderthals lived in what is now western Eur-Asia including parts of Germany, France, Spain, Russia and Croatia. Their ancestors left Africa at least 400,000 years ago, which likely explains why humans with African heritage don't have Neanderthal-linked chromosomes.

So is sharing DNA with Neanderthals a good thing?

Neanderthals: Less creative than us?

Possibly, said Labuta. The mixing of genetic material between humans and Neanderthals 50,000 years ago may have helped modern day humans ward off dangerous diseases, funguses or viruses.

"Diversity is very important for long-term survival of a species," Labuda said on the phone from his Montreal office. "Whether this diversity in this case was useful, we don't know yet."

More study has to be done to find out if the genetic material gained from Neanderthals is simply "junk DNA" or served a useful purpose, he said.

Study: Neanderthals cooked, ate veggies

Popular culture hasn't been kind to our ancient cousins, leading to the misperception that Neanderthals weren't intelligent. In fact, experts believe they were just as smart as modern humans.

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What a Babylonian laundry list says about you
June 10th, 2011
04:40 PM ET

What a Babylonian laundry list says about you

Scholars have completed a dictionary after 90 years of work. Considering the language they were working on is 4,500 years old, they made pretty good time.

The University of Chicago's Oriental Institute this week announced completion of the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, a work begun by institute founder James Henry Breasted in 1921.

The 21-volume, 9,700-page opus identifies, explains and provides citations for the words written in cuneiform on clay tablets and carved in stone by Babylonians, Assyrians and others in Mesopotamia between 2500 B.C. and A.D. 100. The first 20 volumes were published as they were completed, but now the work is complete.

FULL STORY at CNN's This Just In

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Humans may have left Africa for Eurasia earlier than believed
January 27th, 2011
03:51 PM ET

Humans may have left Africa for Eurasia earlier than believed

Scientists have discovered new evidence suggesting that modern humans first left Africa to explore Eurasia much earlier than previously thought.

An international team of scientists has uncovered a tool kit that indicates that modern humans, who looked and perhaps behaved much like us, must have lived in eastern Arabia about 100,000 to 125,000 years ago. The collection of small hand axes, scrapers and other tools was found in Jebel Faya, United Arab Emirates. A report about the discovery appears in the journal Science.

The people who made these tools "are our ancestors, I have no doubt about that," said Hans-Peter Uerpmann, of the University of Tubingen in Germany, who collaborated on the project, at a press teleconference Wednesday.

But the findings still do not prove definitively that modern humans made these tools, as the researchers did not find human remains near them, said Ted Goebel, anthropologist at Texas A&M University, who was not involved in the study. They potentially could have been made by Neanderthals or Neanderthal-like hominids, who were already in Eurasia at that time, Goebel said.

FULL STORY at CNN's This Just In

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