On the Trail of Human Origins

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We don’t really know that much about how we became what we are, modern humans. John Noble Wilford talks to Chris Stringer, who is hot on the trail, for the New York 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.

Dr. Stringer, an animated man of 64, is an anthropologist at the Natural History Museum in London and a fellow of the Royal Society. But he belies the image of a don: He showed up for our interview wearing a T-shirt and jeans, looking as if he had just come in from the field.

A condensed and edited version of our conversation follows. In it and in a new book, he describes a new wrinkle to the hypothesis of a recent African origin of modern Homo sapiens. His ideas may light up more debate in a contentious science.

First of all, would you explain the title of your new book?

Yes, the title is “Lone Survivors: How We Came to Be the Only Humans on Earth.” And this comes from the fact that if we went back 100,000 years, which is very recent, geologically speaking, there might have been as many as six different kinds of humans on the earth. All those other kinds have disappeared, and left us as the sole survivors…

[continues in the New York Times]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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9 Comments on "On the Trail of Human Origins"

  1. 100,000 years from now
    the humans that have evolved beyond Homo Sapien Sapien
    will look back and puzzle over our extinction
    and conjecture that we may have had a primitive form of intelligence
    but not enough to survive

  2. Anarchy Pony | Jul 17, 2012 at 12:31 pm |

    Where’d we come from? Jesus-magic. Obviously. We don’t need no Evil-ution.

    • Calypso_1 | Jul 17, 2012 at 12:46 pm |

      Jesus majik is cool man!  Water into wine, withering trees, necromancy, transubstantiation Woa! – I really liked it when he raised the hill over his head for seven days to protect those dudes from the rain – Way to prove the whole mustard seed thing.

    • Liam_McGonagle | Jul 17, 2012 at 12:56 pm |

      I try to keep a little more positive.  I’m certain that sooner or later, our species will actually evolve into Humanity.

      • The only thing to get is money | Jul 28, 2012 at 3:04 am |

        Indeed life will continue to produce myriad forms. But what is life? Life is matter and energy. Therefore, life cannot be defined. The wall at my side may very well be alive.

  3. Jesus Borg | Jul 17, 2012 at 2:33 pm |

    I don’t think our mids are strictly  biological in origin. I give Michael Aquino of the temple of Set a lot of shit, because its ghey to dress like a vampire while trading stocks and bonds while working for the military (and likely kiddie fidling in an occult sort of way) but anyway He makes some good points.

    The left hand path and right hand path religions sort of describe the birth of human consciousness in the same way. Right hand path describe it as a fall and the birth of individual ego consciousness and left hand path describe it as  enlightenment itself and basically worship their own egos.

    Right hand path enlightenment is more in line with trnascending the ego.

    Looking at it biologically, something from outerspace seems to have parasitized our brains. Or it could by symbiosis. But anyway there probably isn’t a biological advantage to have a big brain.

    I don’t think its far fetched to say we were apes that got mindfucked by aliens. Its just as likely as anything else.

    • Rex Vestri | Jul 18, 2012 at 6:33 am |

      The aliens started with some apes, made a few genetic tweaks (or cross-bred with them) and created homo sapiens.

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