New Skulls from China Have Scientists and the Media in a Muddle

Just a decade ago we thought we had solved the mystery of mysteries. We were confident we had finally puzzled out the evolutionary origins of modern humans. Two hundred thousand years ago our species evolved in sub-Saharan Africa and by around 60,000 years ago strode out to settle Asia, Australia, Europe and eventually the Americas,…

Paying a Heavy Price for Loving the Neanderthals

One of the biggest surprises about our evolution revealed over just the last decade is the extent to which our ancestors engaged in amorous congress with the evolutionary cousins. Bonking the Neanderthals, it seems, was a bit of a pastime for the distant relatives. It happened many times in Siberia, East Asia, the Middle East…

A Golden Age of Ancient DNA Science Begins

If I had taken a straw poll among anthropologists 10 years ago asking them how far genetic research would come in the next decade, I doubt anyone would have come close to predicting the big impact fossil DNA work would come to have. Back then, this nascent field was bogged down with fundamental issues like…

How a One Night Stand in the Ice Age Affects Us All Today

Over the past half decade, ancient DNA research has revealed some surprising aspects to our evolutionary history during the past 50,000 years. Perhaps the most startling of these has been the extent to which the ancestors of living people across the planet interbred with other closely related species of human. But where in the world…

All Mixed Up: Interspecies Love-ins and the Offbeat History of Our Species

Revolutionary developments in the study of the DNA of our fossil ancestors are forcing a major rewrite of the human evolutionary story. They hold major implications for fundamental questions that cut across biology and shift the spotlight back onto humans as a central model in the study of evolution. And, they again highlight the weird…

Did Modern Humans Wipe Out the Neanderthals in Europe?

Our closest evolutionary cousins the Neanderthals continue to fascinate scientists and prehistorians. Fossils and DNA strongly suggest we shared a common ancestor with them, genetic clocks placing the split between us in the range of 550,000 to 765,000 years ago. Our fascination stems from the fact they are our closest evolutionary cousins; we have hundreds…