A Bone Here, a Bead There: On the Trail of Human Origins

The unidentified creature has a strangely shaped skull nearly as large as its 20-inch-tall body

NY Times

Who are we, and where did we come from? Scientists studying the origin of modern humans, Homo sapiens, keep reaching deeper in time to answer those questions — toward the last common ancestor of great apes and humans, then forward to the emergence of people more and more like us in body and behavior.

Their research is advancing on three fronts. Fossils of skulls and bones expose anatomical changes. Genetics reveals the timing and place of the Eve of modern humans.

And archaeology turns up ancient artifacts reflecting abstract and creative thought, and a growing self-awareness. Just last month, researchers made the startling announcement that Stone Age paintings in Spanish caves were much older than previously thought, from a time when Neanderthals were still alive.

To help make sense of this cascade of new information, a leading authority on modern human evolution — the British paleoanthropologist Chris Stringer — recently sat for an interview in New York that ranged across many recent developments: the evidence of interbreeding between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens; the puzzling extinct species of little people nicknamed the hobbits; and the implications of a girl’s 40,000-year-old pinkie finger found in a Siberian cave.

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