Category Archives: human evolution

Human Phylogeography

by Greg Mayer For the spring semester, my colleague Dave Rogers and I are teaching a seminar class entitled “Human Phylogeography.” Phylogeography is the study of the history of the genetic variation, and of genetic lineages, within a species (or closely related group of species), and in the seminar we are looking at the phylogeography […]

Determinism doesn’t mean that you can’t change your behavior, or help others to

I’m a free-will “incompatibilist”: someone who sees the existence of physical determinism as dispelling the idea of contracausal, you-could-have-done-otherwise “free will”, which is the notion of free will most common among people. Many people find my view disturbing and fatalistic, and I’m often posed this question: “If everything is determined by the laws of physics […]

Svante Pääbo gives a good public lecture on Neanderthals, Denisovans, and other relatives of modern humans

I think most readers know about Svante Pääbo and his work on “paleoanthropology”: the study of the evolution and ancient movements of H. sapiens through analysis of “fossil DNA”.  His most famous work is on the genetics of Neanderthals, a subject in which I’ve recently become interested. Pääbo’s work been extended to Denisovans and other previously […]

How do we know that Neanderthals were nearly all right-handed?

A while back I wrote about my visit to the Croatia Natural History Museum, where curator Dr. Davorka Radovčić kindly gave three of us a several-hour look at Neanderthal bones from the nearby location of Krapina, one of the most fruitful Neanderthal sites known. At the time I mentioned there was evidence that most Neanderthals were right-handed, […]

Neanderthal bones in Croatia

Note: This has been slightly updated after I ran it by Davorka, who caught a few errors. Over the years we’ve had a number of posts about Neanderthals and their genetic legacy in “modern humans” (see here for a collection), many of them written by Matthew Cobb. Croatia—in particular a hill near the small town […]

A very old tool

Here’s my hand holding a 130,000 year old flint spearhead created by a Neanderthal living near what is now Krapina, Croatia. It’s a beautiful point, and amazing to think that this was chipped by a hominin so long ago. I learned a ton today at the Croatia Natural History Museum, as we had a special […]

Geneticist David Reich responds to critics of his views on race

On March 23, I called your attention to paleoanthropologist David Reich’s op-ed in the New York Times, “How genetics is changing our understanding of ‘race’.” I thought the article was quite good, one of the few articles that takes a pretty objective and open-minded stand on “race”. It noted that conventionally named races are social […]

Finally: a sensible discussion of “race”

And by “sensible,” of course, I mean a discussion that aligns with my own views. I’ve often written that while there are no finite and strongly genetically demarcated human “races”, there are meaningful and statistically diagnostic differences between populations, ethnic groups, or whatever you want to call them. This is in opposition to the common […]

The first Neanderthal cave art

There has been some debate about the artistic ability of Neanderthals, and to date no art has been found, though their “spirituality” has been suggested from traces of ochre in burial sites. That suggests either that living bodies were decorated before burial or were adorned after death in some kind of ritual.  People seize on […]

New jaw and teeth puts first exodus of Homo sapiens from Africa about 180,000 years ago

Note: I’m not an expert on human evolution, so this post is largely derived from some catch-up reading I had to do, and there may be some errors. Feel free to comment or correct me in the comments. I use the subspecies designation H. sapiens sapiens as a synonym for “modern H. sapiens” and to […]