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Anthropology

Hand gestures point towards the origins of language

There are few one-offs in life on Earth – rarely can a single species boast a trait or ability that no other possesses. But human language is one such oddity. Our ability to use subtle combinations of sounds produced by our vocal cords to create words and sentences, which when combined with grammatical rules, convey complex ideas.  There were attempts in the 1950s to teach chimpanzees to ‘speak’ some words,

Gregory Bateson changed the way we think about changing ourselves

Tim Parks writes: [F]or Bateson the only worthy object of study appeared to be human behaviour, the kind of complex circumstances – the war, British academia, his family background – that had created the drama he was living through. What he would eventually do was to use the tools of observation and analysis that his father taught him, the zoologist’s attention to patterning and morphology, to bring a fresh approach

Neanderthals were nearly as right-handed as modern humans

By Anna Goldfield The human body is often visualized as a symmetrical form: Picture the geometric precision of Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic drawing of a man’s proportions encased by a circle and square. In reality, we are actually quite lopsided. Most people have a dominant ear; the same is true for eyes, feet, and hands. Handedness is perhaps the most obvious of these asymmetries. From the time most children first

Oldest human skull outside Africa identified as 210,000 years old

Nicolas Primola/Shutterstock By Anthony Sinclair, University of Liverpool A 210,000-year-old human skull could provide new evidence that our species left Africa much earlier than previously thought. A new study published in Nature of two fossils found in Greece in the 1970s shows that one of them is the oldest Homo sapiens specimen ever found outside Africa by more than 50,000 years. This exciting discovery adds to a list of recent

Ancient humans used the moon as a calendar in the sky

Rebecca Boyle writes: The sun’s rhythm may have set the pace of each day, but when early humans needed a way to keep time beyond a single day and night, they looked to a second light in the sky. The moon was one of humankind’s first timepieces long before the first written language, before the earliest organized cities and well before structured religions. The moon’s face changes nightly and with

What does anthropology say about the emotional lives of others?

Andrew Beatty writes: In his classic thought experiment set out in ‘What Is An Emotion?’ (1884), William James, pioneer psychologist and brother of the novelist Henry, tried to imagine what would be left of emotion if you subtracted the bodily symptoms. What, for example, would grief be ‘without its tears, its suffocation of the heart, its pang in the breastbone? A feelingless cognition that certain circumstances are deplorable, and nothing

The power of seeing what is not there

In a review of Felipe Fernández-Armesto’s, Out of Our Minds: A History of What We Think and How We Think, Philip Marsden writes: Wallace Stevens called it ‘the necessary angel’. Ted Hughes thought it ‘the most essential bit of machinery we have if we are going to live the lives of human beings’. Coleridge described its role a little more vigorously: ‘The living Power and prime Agent of all human

Farming may have helped introduce ‘f’ and ‘v’ sounds to language 12,000 years ago

The Atlantic reports: Thousands of years ago, small groups of humans across the globe began to transition from hunting and gathering their food to raising and planting it instead. They milked cattle, milled grains to make soft bread, and used new inventions like pottery to preserve meat and vegetables. And once they did that, they could start spicing up their speech by throwing some f and v sounds into the

Prehistoric humans invented stone tools multiple times, study finds

The Independent reports: Prehistoric humans invented tools on multiple occasions, according to researchers who have found a collection of 327 stone weapons carved more than 2.58 million years ago. This is the first evidence of ancient hominids sharpening stones to create specific tools, according to new research led by Arizona State University and George Washington University. The collection of “Oldowan” tools – which are created by chipping off bits of

The dancing species: How moving together in time helped make us human

By Kimerer LaMothe Dancing is a human universal, but why? It is present in human cultures old and new; central to those with the longest continuous histories; evident in the earliest visual art on rock walls from France to South Africa to the Americas, and enfolded in the DNA of every infant who invents movements in joyful response to rhythm and song, long before she can walk, talk or think

Misreading the story of climate change and the Maya

Stucco frieze from Placeres, Campeche, Mexico, Early Classic period, c. 250-600 AD. Wolfgang Sauber/Wikimedia, CC BY-SA By Kenneth Seligson, California State University, Dominguez Hills Carbon dioxide concentrations in Earth’s atmosphere have reached 415 parts per million – a level that last occurred more than three million years ago, long before the evolution of humans. This news adds to growing concern that climate change will likely wreak serious damage on our

Humans are not off the hook for extinctions of large herbivores — then or now

Hippos at Gorongosa National Park. Brett Kuxhausen, Author provided, Author provided By René Bobe, University of Oxford and Susana Carvalho, University of Oxford What triggered the decline and eventual extinction of many megaherbivores, the giant plant-eating mammals that roamed the Earth millions of years ago, has long been a mystery. These animals, which weighed 1,000kg or more and included the ancient relatives of modern elephants, rhinos, hippos and giraffes, reached

Why speech is a human innovation

By Tom Siegfried Except for various cartoon characters, the Geico Gecko and Mr. Ed, animals can’t speak. Yet they have a lot to say to scientists trying to figure out the origins of human language. Speaking isn’t the only avenue for language. After all, linguistic messaging can be transmitted by hand signals. Or handwriting. Or texting. But speech is the original and most basic mode of human communication. So understanding

A jawbone shows Denisovans lived on the Tibetan Plateau long before humans

Science News reports: Denisovans reached what’s now called “the roof of the world” at least 160,000 years ago. Found in a Tibetan Plateau cave, a partial lower jawbone represents a Denisovan who is the oldest known hominid to reach the region’s cloud-scraping heights, researchers report online May 1 in Nature. The fossil suggests that these perplexing, extinct members of the human lineage weathered the plateau’s frigid, thin air long before

A Neanderthal tooth discovered in Serbia reveals human migration history

A 3D recreation of a recently discovered Neanderthal tooth. Joshua Lindal, Author provided By Mirjana Roksandic, University of Winnipeg and Joshua Allan Lindal, University of Winnipeg In 2015, our Serbian-Canadian archaeological research team was working at a cave site named Pešturina, in Eastern Serbia, where we had found thousands of stone tools and animal bones. One day, an excited Serbian undergrad brought us a fossil they had uncovered: a small

How culture works with evolution to produce human cognition

Cecilia Heyes writes: The conventional view, inside and outside academia, is that children are ‘wired’ to imitate. We are ‘Homo imitans’, animals born with a burning desire to copy the actions of others. Imitation is ‘in our genes’. Birds build nests, cats miaow, pigs are greedy, while humans possess an instinct to imitate. The idea that humans have cognitive instincts is a cornerstone of evolutionary psychology, pioneered by Leda Cosmides,