Category Archives: human evolution

Today’s Google Doodle celebrates Lucy

Today’s Google Doodle is a good one for evolutionary biologists, for it celebrates “Lucy,” the largely-complete skeletal specimen of Australopithecus afarensis found 41 years ago today by Donald Johansen and his team in Ethiopia. (The story of how they found her is in chapter 8 of WEIT.)  Lucy is famous for the “intermediacy” of her skeleton, which […]

Why we should be excited by 100,000 year old human teeth from China

by Matthew Cobb I told you all the other day – discoveries in recent human evolution are appearing at an astonishing pace. I just gave my final lecture of the year to the students on the first year Genes, Evolution and Development course at the University of Manchester; last night, at around 23:30, I had […]

Neanderthal genes are everywhere

by Matthew Cobb [EDIT: IN JANUARY 2016, KEY POINTS OF THE STUDY DESCRIBED BELOW WERE DISCOVERED TO BE UNTRUE. Read this to see why.] As regular readers will know, some of the most astonishing discoveries in the whole of science that have occurred over the last few years have been with regard to our understanding of recent human evolution. […]

The Atlantic ponders a weighty question: Did early hominins have souls?

Among the category of Articles That Should Not Have Been Written, this one is prominent. It’s “Did Neanderthals have souls?” by freelance writer Ruth Graham, and her piece is in The Atlantic. The question of when, and in which species, hominins were “ensouled” is of interest mainly because it’s so dumb, showing not only the conflict […]

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 […]