Category Archives: human evolution

Are humans still evolving? Yes, both globally and locally.

The one question I’m inevitably asked after lecturing on evolution to a general audience is this: “Are humans still evolving?” What they really want to know, of course, is whether we’re getting smarter, taller, handsomer, and so on. Well, with respect to those traits I always say, “I have no idea,” but humans are still evolving, […]

A new species of hominin hits the news. What is it and what does it mean?

“Hominins” (formerly “hominids”), comprise all species, extinct and living (the latter is only H. sapiens), that fell on the side of the lineage that produced modern humans after the divergence of that lineage from the lineage leading to modern chimpanzees (our closest living relatives). Not all hominins fall in the genus Homo, of course: we have […]

Evolution: 550 myr in 1 minute

Here’s a video of the progress of evolution beginning with microbes and leading to humans, and then in reverse (note that it sees evolution as a progression towards H. sapiens, which is an anthropocentric way to see it; you could, for example, show the same animation culminating in a squirrel, or better yet a cat). Nevertheless, […]

David Sloan Wilson tells the BBC that the evolution of altruism in humans is “solved”: it’s group selection (of course)

Reader Tony from the UK called my attention to yesterday’s “Start the Week” program on BBC Radio 4, which featured the evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson discussing the evolution of human altruism with host Tom Sutcliffe. (Click the screenshot below to go to the page, then press the arrow at lower left on that page. […]

Is natural selection making the Dutch taller?

A piece by Carl Zimmer in Thursday’s New York Times called my attention to a new paper in the Proceedings of the Royal Society Series B (reference and link to download below) by Gert Stulp et al. on the remarkable height of Dutch people and some evidence that natural selection (probably via sexual selection) is acting to promote […]

Britain: a marvelous mongrel mix of migrants

JAC: I asked Matthew—actually, I twisted his arm—to tell us a bit about the new paper in Nature dissecting the genetic composition of inhabitants of the UK, which showed lovely genetic clusters reflecting history and ancestry. Of course, as the “race critics” would assure us, those clusters are only social constructs! by Matthew Cobb One of the key issues in […]

The world’s oldest graffiti: by Homo erectus! (maybe)

Look at the shell below, which has been dated to 500,000 years ago. See the scratches? Those represent the oldest human etchings, or graffiti, ever found, preceding the next oldest by 300,000 years! Some anthropologists dissent, but more on that at the end of this post. As Science reports, this shell was found by a […]

Yes, Neanderthals are us!

by Greg Mayer In a paper published today in Nature, Qiaomei Fu and colleagues report a high quality genome sequence derived from a 45,000 year old, anatomically modern human femur found in western Siberia. “Ust’-Ishim Man” has provided the oldest known genome of an anatomically modern human (there are earlier genomes of archaic humans). So, […]

When did the Neanderthals go extinct?

by Greg Mayer In a recent paper in Nature (abstract only), Tom Higham of Oxford and several colleagues report on their effort to determine by radiocarbon dating when Neanderthals went extinct. Higham et al. conclude that it was about 40,000 years ago. It’s gotten a fair amount of media coverage—more on this below—but let’s look at the […]

There was no first human

From PBS (via Matthew Cobb), and inspired by Richard Dawkins’s The Magic of Reality, we get a short video explaining to non-scientists why there was no first human. Matthew tells me he’s going to show it to his students, and it’s a good didactic tool. Have a look: