The biggest history news stories of the last seven days, including a discovery which could rewrite the story of evolution.
Shock as oldest Homo sapiens are found in an unexpected place
Fossil remains of Homo sapiens, along with stone tools and animal bones, have been found in Jebel Irhoud, Morocco. The three hundred-thousand-year-old bones are the oldest Homo sapiens remains ever discovered, and could drastically rewrite our understanding of humanity’s origins.
A hundred thousand years older than the next oldest securely dated Homo sapiens remains, the discovery suggests that the evolution of mankind was far more complicated than traditionally thought, and involved the entire African continent.
Until now, the oldest Homo sapiens remains had all been found in East Africa, in the area around that is now Ethiopia, leading scientists to conclude that modern humans all descended from a population living in that region.
“We used to think that there was a cradle of mankind 200 thousand years ago in east Africa, but our new data reveal that Homo sapiens spread across the entire African continent around 300 thousand years ago. Long before the out-of-Africa dispersal of Homo sapiens, there was dispersal within Africa,” said palaeoanthropologist Jean-Jacques Hublin, one of the authors of two papers appearing in the journal Nature that detail the discovery.
The fact that Homo sapiens had spread to North Africa by three hundred thousand years ago suggests the origins of our species happened much earlier than previously thought.
Japan’s largest dinosaur skeleton discovered
The complete, eight-metre-long skeleton of a dinosaur has been excavated from 72-million-year-old marine deposits on Japan’s northern island, Hokkaido. It is the largest dinosaur skeleton ever discovered in Japan, according to researchers.
A member of the duck-billed hadrosaurid family, excavations to uncover the spectacular skeleton started in 2013, in the Hobetsu district of Mukawa Town. According to the research team from Hokkaido University and Hobetsu Museum in Mukawa, it is only the third time in history a complete hadrosaurid skeleton has been found in marine deposits, and the first time such a finding has been made in Japan. Nicknamed Mukawaryu (Mukawa Dragon), it is only the second complete dinosaur skeleton to have been unearthed in Japan.
Dr. Yoshitsugu Kobayashi of the research team said: “We first discovered a part of the fossilized Mukawaryu skeleton in 2013, and after a series of excavations, we believe we have cleaned more than half of the bones the dinosaur had, making it clear that it is a complete skeleton.”
There are more than 50 kinds of dinosaur in the hadrosaurid group, divided into two categories: crested (Hadrosaurinae), and uncrested (Lambeosaurinae). “Although Mukawaryu has some characteristics of both groups, our preliminary analysis indicated it might belong to the Hadrosaurinae. Further cleaning of the fossils and detailed research should make it clearer which group the Mukawaryu skeleton belongs to,” said Kobayashi.
Ancient Egyptians were closer to Europeans than modern Egyptians
For the first time, scientists have successfully sequenced the DNA of Egyptian mummies. The findings reveal that the Ancient Egyptians had more in common genetically with the people of the eastern Mediterranean than those living in modern day Egypt.
The research was carried out by scientists from the Population Genetics Group at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, in Jena, Germany, and has been published in the journal Nature Communications.
Although there are thousands of sets of mummy remains worldwide, until now extracting the DNA has proven a challenge. “Researchers were generally skeptical about DNA preservation in Egyptian mummies, due to the hot climate, the high humidity levels in tombs and some of the chemicals used during mummification, which are all factors that make it hard for DNA to survive for such a long time,” Stephan Schiffels from the Max Planck Institute told Live Science.
Schiffels and colleagues used an innovative new method called next generation sequencing, which allows human DNA to be extracted from other types to tell if a fragment is very old or suspiciously new. For this study, they focused on mummies from between 1380 BCE and 425 CE.
When the mummy DNA was compared with genetic samples from modern Egyptians, they found that it had significantly less sub-Saharan ancestry than the modern samples. The scientists were only able to speculate on why this genetic change occurred. “One possible cause could be increased mobility down the Nile and increased long-distance commerce between sub-Saharan Africa and Egypt,” said Schiffels.
Image courtesy of Philipp Gunz, MPI EVA Leipzig (License: CC-BY-SA 2.0)