Research coming out of the University of Witwatersrand says hominid brain size does NOT matter. The research team examined brain imprints (endocast) of Homo naledi’s brain and observed the many humanlike features in the imprints. What they did was to piece together traces of H. naledi’s brain shape from skull fragments and partial Crania from at least 5 adult specimens and they discovered one of these had very clear imprints on the convolutions on the surface of the brain’s left frontal lobe.
H. naledi’s brain was only about 1/3 the size of modern humans but their brains had some very humanlike features. Research conducted by this team call into question the long held assumption that human evolution was an upward growth in brain size and, thus, the development of more complex brains.
Homo naledi was discovered by paleoanthropologist Dr Lee Berger at the Rising Star Caves in the Cradle of Humankind in 2013. The site is located 3 miles northwest of Johannesburg. Paleoanthropologist Dr John Hawkes of the University of Wisconsin-Madison was part of the original research team as were others. The species existed in southern Africa between 236-335 kya which may also coincide with the emergence of modern humans in Africa. Prior to its discovery the general consensus was that there was only one species of hominin in Africa at the time (ie: Homo sapiens). Obviously that was NOT the case at all and H. naledi PROVES IT!! It’s discovery also proves that more than one hominin species coexisted!! And now it’s found that they had many brain features similar to H. sapiens even though their brains were smaller by 1/3 than H. sapiens! In short, what I’ve said before many times: Continue Reading
Paleoanthropologist Dr John Hawks, University of Wisconsin-Madison
H/T to JR Bentley for this link:
Interesting points and observations from the blog of Dr John Hawks pertaining to the Foramen magnum as an indication of bipedalism…….
“Our results show that locomotion does not influence FM orientation in marsupials, rodents, or strepsirrhines, and that basicranial evolution is a complex phenomenon that must be explored in the context of each taxon’s unique evolutionary and developmental history.”
This is not the first paper to come to this result; Ruth and colleagues cite a number of others who have had similar conclusions either from a comparative or mechanical point of view.
“The obvious question is: What about early hominins? Two genera of Late Miocene and Early Pliocene primates, Sahelanthropus and Ardipithecus, have been argued to show evidence of an orthograde postural repertoire, largely due to their basicranial form, including foramen magnum orientation. For Sahelanthropus there is no otherevidence of posture; for Ardipithecus there is an abundance of postcranial evidence, none of which argues compellingly for an orthograde posture.”
“Our data from all three taxa examined show that locomotion and posture do not influence FM position or orientation, and we conclude that this is likely in hominids as well. Anterior migration of the foramen magnum in early, small-brained hominids likely reflects changes in the relative sizes of the brain’s components (i.e., an expanded neocortex) (Holloway, 1966 and Holloway et al., 2003), and as such is still a useful indicator of the behavior and biology of extinct species. Bipedality, however, should be inferred from the postcranium.” Continue Reading
Heidelberg Man (Homo heidelbergensis) recreation at Atapuerca
Homo heidelbergensis (aka: Heidelberg Man) was just an archaic Neanderthal and was NOT a common ancient ancestor for H. sapiens and Neanderthals even though some people still seem to think so.
The OOA (Out of Africa) theory holds the view that Heidelberg Man is an ancestor of modern humans and Neanderthals, however. That theory claims this hominin species was present in Africa, Europe, and Asia 600-200 kya. Their skulls have features of both Homo erectus and Homo sapiens and their brain size is almost as large as H. sapiens. Yet, keep in mind that Neanderthals had slightly larger brains than modern humans do. This species was first discovered in 1907 near Heidelberg, Germany.
Further, mainstream theory (OOA) says that Neanderthals, Denisovans, and H. sapiens all descended from Heidelberg Man who appeared in Africa around 700 kya where it is known as Homo rhodesiensis. Fossils have been found in Ethiopia, Namibia, and South Africa and the theory holds that somewhere between 400-300 kya a group of this species migrated into Europe and western Asia by unknown routes and that they evolved into the Neanderthals in Europe. Another group migrated out of Africa and into Asia and they evolved into the mysterious Denisovans. Those who remained in Africa (H. rhodesiensis) evolved into anatomically modern humans sometime between 300-200 kya according to conventional OOA theory. They then migrated in a second wave into Europe and Asia between 125-60 kya. And so that is basically what the OOA says but is it so?
Artistic depiction of Homo erectus
Some paleoanthropologists and others believe H. heidelbergensis is nothing more than a variant of H. erectus! Others hold the view that it was an archaic Neanderthal but not a common ancestor of Neanderthals and archaic modern humans, H. sapiens. So, again, the waters are muddied and everything is uncertain and foggy!! That is, unless you consider the following FACTS! Continue Reading
Is it possible that modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) or our forerunners archaic modern humans (Homo sapiens, Cro-magnons, et al) were living close to 1 mya? Generally, we’ve believed that modern humans came onto the scene about 100 kya then with new discoveries that was extended back to 200 kya and recently with new finds in Morocco the timeline for modern humans has been extended back to 300 kya.
Back in December of 1997 Discover Magazine ran an article about a controversial discovery. That discovery was made in Spain in 1995 in a cave called Gran Dolina in the Atapuerca region of Spain. This fossil suggested that modern humans were much older than believed, by far, in fact. The fossil was from an 11 year old boy who looked like a modern human yet it was dated at 800 kyr (hundred thousand years old). How is this possible if modern humankind is only 200-300 kyr?
This discovery, however, is not alone because in 1932 the famous Dr Louis Leakey made an astonishing find of his own! This discovery was made around Lake Victoria in Kenya, Africa. Leakey found numerous fossils belonging to the Middle Pleistocene that were really no different from modern man. Problem was that the Mid Pleistocene was about one million years ago!! (actually from about 781 to 126 thousand years ago). His discoveries were dismissed (as expected) but Leakey always maintained that the dating was CORRECT!
Returning to the 1995 discovery made in Spain, the find was so shocking that even the discoverers were shocked by it! Never in a million years did they expect to find any ancient human ancestor remains that looked like modern humans! The team was led by Dr Juan Luis Arsuaga Ferraras who said that he and his team expected something big and primitive but never modern looking. “What we found was a totally modern face,” he told the Discover magazine writers. “The most spectacular thing is finding something you thought belonged to the present, in the past….we were very surprised when we saw it.” Continue Reading
No matter where I’ve been in the wilds I have never gotten lost. Sound strange? I’m not the only one! Be it in wilds that I know or that I don’t know I’ve always known what direction to go to get back to my starting point or wherever I wanted to go and this is what we might call our “internal compass” at work and there is scientific proof for such an ability.
Back in 2014 University College London conducted a study using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) and found the part of the brain that tells us the direction to travel when we navigate around. The strength of the signal predicts how well we can navigate, which means, those with strong signals tend to navigate better than those with low signals.
Some people are better navigators than others but up until this study we really didn’t know why. This study showed that the strength and reliability of our inner “homing signals” vary among people and predict our navigational skills. Some people tend to get lost a lot and this is because the strength of their directional or “homing” signal is weak (like my grandfather who was forever getting lost in the wilds!). Continue Reading
Artistic depiction of the 5 Dmanisi skulls
The majority consensus is that our ancient human ancestors came out of Africa and populated the world. And the consensus is also that human evolution took place in Africa as these newly evolved humans migrated out of Africa they replaced more archaic species along the way. This is the OOA/Replacement Theory. More recently there has been evidence found that, in fact, there were not only migrations out of Africa but also back into Africa. However, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting all of this is NOT the case at all and part of that growing evidence are the finds at the Dmanisi site in Georgia (Russia).
The finds at the Dmanisi site clearly challenge the conventional opinion and the more we find the more it is beginning to appear that Africa was NOT the sole “cradle of humankind.” For, what is being found at the Dmanisi site suggests STRONGLY that there was a “Eurasian chapter in the long evolutionary story of man.”
Location of Dmanisi site in Georgia Republic
The Dmanisi discoveries upset the conventional view that ancient human ancestors migrated out of Africa not so long ago in evolutionary terms. In fact, these discoveries strongly point to ancient human ancestors migrating out of Africa FAR earlier than the conventional view holds. Of course, some of this is being demeaned by the suggestion (speculation) that there was simply a long evolutionary interlude in Eurasia before moving back into Africa to complete our evolution. Frankly, I think that is an absolute CROCK! I think what was going on at Dmanisi was far MORE than simply an “evolutionary interlude.”
The Dmanisi fossilized bones have been dated at around 1.8 myr and they are the oldest remains discovered outside of Africa to date. The Dmanisi remains are far more primitive appearing than Homo erectus which is believed to have been the first hominid species to migrate out of Africa about 1 mya. How is this possible that we have a hominid species outside of Africa long before H. erectus migrated out of Africa and began their conquest of the world?
When we compare the Dmanisi remains to H. erectus remains we come up with some very interesting comparisons. The Dmanisi had brains about 40% SMALLER than the average H. erectus brain! We also find that the Dmanisi were significantly shorter than the average H. erectus. Further, the conventional view has been that when H. erectus came out of Africa they had sophisticated stone tools (Acheulean) and that their physical anatomy was “advanced” in terms of brain size and limb proportions. BUT what is found at Dmanisi is very DIFFERENT from this! Continue Reading
Patagonia is a region at the southern end of Argentina and Chile in South America. It contains the southern end of the Andes and the desert steppes and grasslands east of this mountain range. It is bounded by both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
Lake Pehoe, Patagonia
The name “Patagonia” has a rather interesting meaning. This region was named by the famous navigator and explorer Magellan in 1520. “Patagonia” is derived from the word “patagon.” Magellan used this name to describe the people that he and his men thought were “giants”! Most historians believe that the people he was referring to were the Tehuelches who just happened to be a a bit taller than your average European at the time. The name of these people, Tehuelches, actually means “the fierce people” in their native tongue.
When the Spanish explorers first set foot in this area they came across some rather large footprints on the beaches and they thought them to have been made by giants. But, actually, the footprints were made by the Tehuelches leather boots (called “guanaco”) which they wore on their feet. But the rumors persisted and this land of Patagonia gained the reputation of being a “land of giants.”
Tehuelche Chieftains in Patagonia, Argentina
The Tehuelches have lived in the Patagonia area for over 14,500 years. This claim has been verified by archaeological discoveries and research. These people have a nomadic lifestyle so archaeological evidence has been rather scant. They are also hunter-gatherers and they are rather well known for their cave paintings. One thing I find interesting about these people is that they are similar in appearance to the Hopi of northeastern Arizona and other Pueblo people of the American Southwest although taller.
It seems that throughout Patagonia’s history there have been stories or legends of hairy giants and ogres (man-eating giants). Some people have speculated that Patagonia might have been the home of some surviving Homo erectus hominids. This is used by some to explain the many sightings of an alleged Patagonian Bigfoot which has been reported since the time of the Spanish Conquistadors in the region. This explanation is rather interesting because mainstream anthropology says H. erectus was never in the Americas. But, as researcher Austin Whittall of Argentina says there is some controversial evidence that has been found in the area that is ignored by mainstream archaeology yet this evidence suggests humans were in the Americas long before we suspect. In fact, roughly 1/4 of a million years ago! Continue Reading
The human (Homo sapien sapien) brain has been shrinking! Don’t get to alarmed however as it’s been shrinking, reportedly, since the Stone Age! In fact, since the Stone Age there have been many changes in our skeletal features and brains. Now you likely think or have been taught that our brains have been consistently getting bigger over the course of human evolution but that, in fact, is NOT true at all. It WAS true for over 2 million years but there is now a reversal going on. Soooo….are we devolving instead of evolving? Or to put it another way…..without new genes being introduced in our species (breed) are we reverting backwards?
According to Dr John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin-Madison over the past 20,000 years our average brain volume has decreased from 1500 cc (cubic centimeters) to 1350 cc. That a reduction about the size of a tennis ball when in terms of our brain is significant. And it’s just not in one location or environment that we find this phenomena as it is found happening all over the world.
If our brains continue to shrink at this rate then 20,000 years from now they will be the size of Homo erectus who had a brain volume average of about 1100 cc. So are we getting dumber or what? Does brain size really matter that much? Or is it how the brain is “wired” that is more important?
There are many theories floating around attempting to explain our shrinking brain volume. Some theorize that humans are, in fact, getting dumber as the gray matter in our brains disappears. Others theorize it’s not about size but about how the modern human brain is wired. They hold the view that our brain wiring is becoming more efficient making us quicker and more agile thinkers so we don’t need big brain volume anymore. Other researchers argue that our shrinking brain is proof positive that we’ve “tamed” ourselves much like domesticated dogs or cows who have smaller brains than their wild ancestors! Dr Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London and a prominent Paleoanthropologists says science hasn’t given this matter enough attention and many simply ignore it as some sort of insignificant detail in modern humans.
Stringer has pointed out something interesting even though I disagree with him much of the time. That is, the more meat we have on our bones, the more brain we need to control massive muscle blocks. It’s called “scaling.” This is one reason Neanderthals had such big brains (averaged 1600 cc). In fact, the Neanderthals had bigger brains that we modern humans yet we portray them as club carrying ignorant brutes! Does it not follow that if brain size matters since they had bigger brains that we do that they were smarter than our modern human ancestors?
20 kya to 30 kya early modern humans (Cro-mags) had the biggest brains in Europe. Again, if larger brains mean more intelligence then that means Cro-mags and Neanderthals were more intelligent that modern humans! Continue Reading