Sunday, April 14, 2019

Human Evolution: Stories From SE Asia

Some recent finds from SE Asia are adding detail to the complex story of human migration and population interaction, and putting a much needed spotlight on the varied geographies and ecology in which human evolution took place.

1) Anthropologist John Hawks writes about the significance of the newly reported Homo luzonensis from the northern island of Luzon in the Philippines. This hominin appears to be small bodied like the 'Hobbit' (Homo floresiensis), which lived about 700 km to the south on the island of Flores. The fossils are at least 50,000 years old and their presence suggests that SE Asia was colonized several times by different hominin populations. How they were related to each other is currently an open and actively debated question.

Link: New species of hominin from Luzon.

2) Denisovans were an archaic group of hominins who diverged from the Neanderthals more than half a million years ago and lived over wide swaths of Eurasia and SE Asia. They interbred with more recent humans entering these regions, beginning about 60,000 years ago. Living Eurasians and Papuan people carry small amounts of Denisovan ancestry. A recent genetic analysis suggests that at an early stage in their history the Denisovans split in to two or three distinct groups, which then genetically diverged from each other. Papuans carry evidence of intermixing with these different Denisovan lineages.

Link: Multiple Deeply Divergent Denisovan Ancestries in Papuans (paper)
Summary: Ancient DNA reveals new branches of the Denisovan family tree.

3) Some of the oldest cave art has recently (2014) been found in Indonesia from the southern part of Sulewasi Island. They are estimated to be around 35,000 to 40,000 years old. A nice summary in Smithsonian Magazine details the discovery. Art forms of this antiquity from Indonesia suggests that a simple story of a singular origin of human symbolic thinking is not tenable anymore. 

Link: A Journey to the Oldest Cave Paintings in the World.

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