This soup can't be ruined.
Traces of long-lost human cousins may be hiding in modern people’s DNA, a new computer analysis suggests.People from Melanesia, a region in the South Pacific encompassing Papua New Guinea and surrounding islands, may carry genetic evidence of a previously unknown extinct hominid species, Ryan Bohlender reported October 20 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics. That species is probably not Neandertal or Denisovan, but a different, related hominid group, said Bohlender, a statistical geneticist at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. “We’re missing a population or we’re misunderstanding something about the relationships,” he said.This mysterious relative was probably from a third branch of the hominid family tree that produced Neandertals and Denisovans, an extinct distant cousin of Neandertals. While many Neandertal fossils have been found in Europe and Asia, Denisovans are known only from DNA from a finger bone and a couple of teeth found in a Siberian cave.[Continues . . .]
Scientists who spent years listening to the communication calls of one of our closest ape relatives say their eavesdropping has shed light on the origin of human language.Dr Adriano Reis e Lameira from Durham University recorded and analysed almost 5,000 orangutan "kiss squeaks".He found that the animals combined these purse-lipped, "consonant-like" calls to convey different messages.This could be a glimpse of how our ancestors formed the earliest words.The findings are published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour."Human language is extraordinarily advanced and complex - we can pretty much transmit any information we want into sound," said Dr Reis e Lameira."So we tend to think that maybe words evolved from some rudimentary precursor to transmit more complex messages."We were basically using the orangutan vocal behaviour as a time machine - back to a time when our ancestors were using what would become [those precursors] of consonants and vowels."[Continues . . .]
Fossil fragments (yellow) were put together with their mirror-image pieces (purple) to visualize the skull of an archaic human who lived in eastern China. Image Credit: Z. Li et al., ScienceSince their discovery in 2010, the extinct ice age humans called Denisovans have been known only from bits of DNA, taken from a sliver of bone in the Denisova Cave in Siberia, Russia. Now, two partial skulls from eastern China are emerging as prime candidates for showing what these shadowy people may have looked like.In a paper published this week in Science, a Chinese-U.S. team presents 105,000- to 125,000-year-old fossils they call “archaic Homo.” They note that the bones could be a new type of human or an eastern variant of Neandertals. But although the team avoids the word, “everyone else would wonder whether these might be Denisovans,” which are close cousins to Neandertals, says paleoanthropologist Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London.The new skulls “definitely” fit what you’d expect from a Denisovan, adds paleoanthropologist María Martinón-Torres of the University College London—“something with an Asian flavor but closely related to Neandertals.” But because the investigators have not extracted DNA from the skulls, “the possibility remains a speculation.”[Continues . . .]
In 2007, researchers from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing were finishing up an archaeological dig in Lingjing, China, when a team member spotted some quartz tools poking out of the mud. After extending the dig, the tools were extracted, revealing an even more significant discovery: a small, ancient skull fragment approximately 100,000 to 130,000 years old.Over the next few years, the researchers returned to the site multiple times, finding more cranium pieces until they were able to reconstruct two partial skulls from more than 40 separate fragments.But when the team analyzed the skull fragments, they realized that the skulls neither fit the bill for Homo sapiens nor Neanderthals but that they shared characteristics of both human species. Ultimately, the researchers were unable to positively determine exactly what kind of human the skulls belong to, opening the door to a wide range of intriguing possibilities.In an article published Friday in the journal Science, the researchers note that the skull fragments date to the Late Pleistocene epoch, a time marked by the expansion of H. sapiens and the extinction of other species in the genus Homo. During the early part of that epoch, Neanderthals roamed Europe and western Asia while humans began to journey out of Africa. But fossil records of human species in Eastern Asia from that time period are thin, muddying the picture of that era for a substantial region of the planet.The skulls found in China were found to bear very close resemblances to those of Neanderthals, including a very similar inner ear bone and a prominent brow ridge. But the brow ridge was much less pronounced than one would expect from Neanderthals, with a considerably less dense cranium, as one might expect in an early H. sapiens. Researchers also found that the skulls were large by both modern and Neanderthal standards, with a whopping 1800 cubic centimeters of brain capacity.[Continues . . .]