Ascent of Man image should be ‘the other way around’, leading expert in human evolution says

The idea that humans evolved from a knuckle-dragging ape, leaving chimpanzees in the Darwinian dust, was crystallised in the famous ‘ascent of man’ image.

But ongoing research on a 3.7-million-year-old fossilised skeleton of an early type of human could prove the orderly procession is actually the wrong way round, according to a leading expert.

Speaking at the British Science Festival in Swansea, Professor Robin Crompton argued that humans, apes and chimpanzees all evolved from a common ancestor who walked upright and lived in the trees.

So it was the chimps who changed their body shape to allow them to move at high speed on all four limbs, while humans carried on using two.

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Chimpanzee feet allow scientists a new grasp on human foot evolution

The human foot is distinguished from the feet of all other primates by the presence of a longitudinal arch, which spans numerous joints and bones of the midfoot region and is thought to stiffen the foot. This structure is thought to be a critical adaptation for bipedal locomotion, or walking on two legs, in part because this arch is absent from the feet of humans' closest living relatives, the African apes.

In contrast, African apes have long been thought to have highly mobile foot joints for climbing tree trunks and grasping branches, although few detailed quantitative studies have been carried out to confirm these beliefs.

But now, Nathan Thompson, Ph.D., assistant professor of Anatomy at New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine (NYITCOM), is one of the researchers questioning some long-held ideas about the function and evolution of the human foot by investigating how chimpanzees use their feet when walking on two legs.

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Monkeys create stone tools forcing scientists to rethink human evolution

The path of human evolution may need to be rewritten after archaeologists discovered that monkeys also produce ‘tool-like flakes’ that were thought to be uniquely man-made.

In a discovery that calls into question decades of research, a band of wild bearded capuchin monkeys in Brazil were seen hammering rocks to extract minerals, causing large flakes to fly off.

Previously archaeologists believed the flakes were only made by humans through a process called ‘stone-knapping’ where a larger rock is hammered with another stone to produce sharp blade-like slivers which can be used for arrows, spears or knives.

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New evidence on the diet of the ’Homo antecessor’ from Atapuerca

The Homo antecessor, a hominin species that inhabited the Iberian Peninsula around 800,000 years ago, would have a mechanically more demanding diet than other hominin species in Europe and the African continent. This unique pattern, which would be characterized by the consumption of hard and abrasive foods, may be explained by the differences in food processing in a very demanding environment with fluctuations in climate and food resources, according to a study published in the journal Scientific Reports and led by a team from the Faculty of Biology of the University of Barcelona, the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES) and the University of Alicante.

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Desert people evolve to drink water poisoned with deadly arsenic

PEOPLE in a south American desert have evolved to detoxify potentially deadly arsenic that laces their water supply.

For settlers in the Quebrada Camarones region of Chile’s Atacama desert some 7000 years ago, water posed more than a bit of a problem. They were living in the world’s driest non-polar desert, and several of their most readily available water sources, such as rivers and wells, had high levels of arsenic, which can cause a variety of health problems.

The arsenic contamination here exceeds 1 milligram per litre: the highest levels in the Americas, and over 100 times the World Health Organization’s safe limits. There are virtually no alternative water sources, and yet, somehow, people have survived in the area. Could it be that arsenic’s negative effects on human health, such as inducing miscarriages, acted as a natural selection pressure that made this population evolve adaptations to it? A new study suggests this is indeed so.

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Bag-Like, Big-Mouthed Sea Creature Could Be Earliest Human Ancestor

Researchers have discovered fossilized traces of they believe to be humans’ earliest-known ancestor: a tiny, wriggly, sea-dwelling blob that may have pooped through its mouth.

Such early steps in evolution are rarely preserved in the fossil record—the delicate structures commonly breaking down over time. But a team of researchers from China and Germany came across just such a cache of fossils in Shaanxi Province of China, according to a press release from the University of Cambridge.

No larger than a millimeter, the creatures likely slithered through the sandy bottoms of the shallow seas some 540 million years ago, Nicholas Wade reports for the New York Times. Researchers dubbed the little creature Saccorhytus, after its “sack-like features,” documenting the oddball in a recent study published in the journal Nature.

The Saccorhytus is thought to be the oldest-known example of a “deuterostome”— an ancient biological class that is ancestral to many animals, including people. Other deuterostome groups familiar to scientists lived 510 to 520 million years ago, and had already began to diversify into different species.

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A scientist’s new theory: Religion was key to humans’ social evolution

In humans’ mysterious journey to become intelligent, socializing creatures like no other in the animal world, one innovation played an essential role: religion.

That’s the theory that a preeminent evolutionary scientist is setting out to prove.

“You need something quite literally to stop everybody from killing everybody else out of just crossness,” said Robin Dunbar. “Somehow it’s clear that religions, all these doctrinal religions, create the sense that we’re all one family.”

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Prehistoric Aurochs Image Opens Up A New View Of Human Evolution

We Homo sapiens have been artists throughout much of our prehistory, creating paintings, engravings and statues, often representing animals.

Now, a team of researchers has described a new discovery from the rock shelter Abri Blanchard in the Dordogne region of France that features a striking image of an aurochs engraved on a limestone slab.

The date the image was made is as compelling as the art itself: 38,000 years ago, during the Upper Paleolithic's Aurignacian. That's older than the famous images at both Lascaux and Chauvet caves, also in France.

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