Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Anatomically modern humans


Hominins with morphology similar to present-day humans appear in the fossil record across Eurasia between 40,000 and 50,000 y ago. The genetic relationships between these early modern humans and present-day human populations have not been established. We have extracted DNA from a 40,000-y-old anatomically modern human from Tianyuan Cave outside Beijing, China. Using a highly scalable hybridization enrichment strategy, we determined the DNA sequences of the mitochondrial genome, the entire nonrepetitive portion of chromosome 21 (∼30 Mbp), and over 3,000 polymorphic sites across the nuclear genome of this individual. The nuclear DNA sequences determined from this early modern human reveal that the Tianyuan individual derived from a population that was ancestral to many present-day Asians and Native Americans but postdated the divergence of Asians from Europeans. They also show that this individual carried proportions of DNA variants derived from archaic humans similar to present-day people in mainland Asia.

Concepts: DNA, Human, Mitochondrial DNA, Human evolution, Archaic Homo sapiens, Humans, Anatomically modern humans, Homo sapiens idaltu


Little is known about the timing of modern human emergence and occupation in Eastern Eurasia. However a rapid migration out of Africa into Southeast Asia by at least 60 ka is supported by archaeological, paleogenetic and paleoanthropological data. Recent discoveries in Laos, a modern human cranium (TPL1) from Tam Pa Ling’s cave, provided the first evidence for the presence of early modern humans in mainland Southeast Asia by 63-46 ka. In the current study, a complete human mandible representing a second individual, TPL 2, is described using discrete traits and geometric morphometrics with an emphasis on determining its population affinity. The TPL2 mandible has a chin and other discrete traits consistent with early modern humans, but it retains a robust lateral corpus and internal corporal morphology typical of archaic humans across the Old World. The mosaic morphology of TPL2 and the fully modern human morphology of TPL1 suggest that a large range of morphological variation was present in early modern human populations residing in the eastern Eurasia by MIS 3.

Concepts: Human, Southeast Asia, World population, Human evolution, Archaic Homo sapiens, Humans, Anatomically modern humans, Homo sapiens idaltu


Anatomically modern humans interbred with Neanderthals and with a related archaic population known as Denisovans. Genomes of several Neanderthals and one Denisovan have been sequenced, and these reference genomes have been used to detect introgressed genetic material in present-day human genomes. Segments of introgression also can be detected without use of reference genomes, and doing so can be advantageous for finding introgressed segments that are less closely related to the sequenced archaic genomes. We apply a new reference-free method for detecting archaic introgression to 5,639 whole-genome sequences from Eurasia and Oceania. We find Denisovan ancestry in populations from East and South Asia and Papuans. Denisovan ancestry comprises two components with differing similarity to the sequenced Altai Denisovan individual. This indicates that at least two distinct instances of Denisovan admixture into modern humans occurred, involving Denisovan populations that had different levels of relatedness to the sequenced Altai Denisovan. VIDEO ABSTRACT.

Concepts: Human, Human genome, Asia, World population, Human evolution, Archaic Homo sapiens, Humans, Anatomically modern humans


Uncertainties surround the timing of modern human emergence and occupation in East and Southeast Asia. Although genetic and archeological data indicate a rapid migration out of Africa and into Southeast Asia by at least 60 ka, mainland Southeast Asia is notable for its absence of fossil evidence for early modern human occupation. Here we report on a modern human cranium from Tam Pa Ling, Laos, which was recovered from a secure stratigraphic context. Radiocarbon and luminescence dating of the surrounding sediments provide a minimum age of 51-46 ka, and direct U-dating of the bone indicates a maximum age of ~63 ka. The cranium has a derived modern human morphology in features of the frontal, occipital, maxillae, and dentition. It is also differentiated from western Eurasian archaic humans in aspects of its temporal, occipital, and dental morphology. In the context of an increasingly documented archaic-modern morphological mosaic among the earliest modern humans in western Eurasia, Tam Pa Ling establishes a definitively modern population in Southeast Asia at ~50 ka cal BP. As such, it provides the earliest skeletal evidence for fully modern humans in mainland Southeast Asia.

Concepts: Human, Southeast Asia, Europe, Asia, Human evolution, Archaic Homo sapiens, Humans, Anatomically modern humans


Uniquely, with respect to Middle Pleistocene hominins, anatomically modern humans do not possess marked browridges, and have a more vertical forehead with mobile eyebrows that play a key role in social signalling and communication. The presence and variability of browridges in archaic Homo species and their absence in ourselves have led to debate concerning their morphogenesis and function, with two main hypotheses being put forward: that browridge morphology is the result of the spatial relationship between the orbits and the brain case; and that browridge morphology is significantly impacted by biting mechanics. Here, we virtually manipulate the browridge morphology of an archaic hominin (Kabwe 1), showing that it is much larger than the minimum required to fulfil spatial demands and that browridge size has little impact on mechanical performance during biting. As browridge morphology in this fossil is not driven by spatial and mechanical requirements alone, the role of the supraorbital region in social communication is a potentially significant factor. We propose that conversion of the large browridges of our immediate ancestors to a more vertical frontal bone in modern humans allowed highly mobile eyebrows to display subtle affiliative emotions.

Concepts: Human, Evolution, Skull, Human evolution, Archaic Homo sapiens, Hominini, Humans, Anatomically modern humans


Admixture between early modern humans and Neandertals approximately 50,000-60,000 years ago has resulted in 1.5-4% Neandertal ancestry in the genomes of present-day non-Africans. Evidence is accumulating that some of these archaic alleles are advantageous for modern humans, while others are deleterious; however, the major mechanism by which these archaic alleles act has not been fully explored.

Concepts: Human, Science, Neanderthal, Human evolution, Archaic Homo sapiens, Early modern Europe, Humans, Anatomically modern humans


The earliest anatomically modern humans in Europe are thought to have appeared around 43,000-42,000 calendar years before present (43-42 kyr cal BP), by association with Aurignacian sites and lithic assemblages assumed to have been made by modern humans rather than by Neanderthals. However, the actual physical evidence for modern humans is extremely rare, and direct dates reach no farther back than about 41-39 kyr cal BP, leaving a gap. Here we show, using stratigraphic, chronological and archaeological data, that a fragment of human maxilla from the Kent’s Cavern site, UK, dates to the earlier period. The maxilla (KC4), which was excavated in 1927, was initially diagnosed as Upper Palaeolithic modern human. In 1989, it was directly radiocarbon dated by accelerator mass spectrometry to 36.4-34.7 kyr cal BP. Using a Bayesian analysis of new ultrafiltered bone collagen dates in an ordered stratigraphic sequence at the site, we show that this date is a considerable underestimate. Instead, KC4 dates to 44.2-41.5 kyr cal BP. This makes it older than any other equivalently dated modern human specimen and directly contemporary with the latest European Neanderthals, thus making its taxonomic attribution crucial. We also show that in 13 dental traits KC4 possesses modern human rather than Neanderthal characteristics; three other traits show Neanderthal affinities and a further seven are ambiguous. KC4 therefore represents the oldest known anatomically modern human fossil in northwestern Europe, fills a key gap between the earliest dated Aurignacian remains and the earliest human skeletal remains, and demonstrates the wide and rapid dispersal of early modern humans across Europe more than 40 kyr ago.

Concepts: Human, Neanderthal, Human evolution, Pleistocene, Archaic Homo sapiens, Humans, Anatomically modern humans, Homo sapiens idaltu


As modern and ancient DNA sequence data from diverse human populations accumulate, evidence is increasing in support of the existence of beneficial variants acquired from archaic humans that may have accelerated adaptation and improved survival in new environments - a process known as adaptive introgression. Within the past few years, a series of studies have identified genomic regions that show strong evidence for archaic adaptive introgression. Here, we provide an overview of the statistical methods developed to identify archaic introgressed fragments in the genome sequences of modern humans and to determine whether positive selection has acted on these fragments. We review recently reported examples of adaptive introgression, grouped by selection pressure, and consider the level of supporting evidence for each. Finally, we discuss challenges and recommendations for inferring selection on introgressed regions.

Concepts: DNA, Human, Natural selection, World population, Human evolution, Archaic Homo sapiens, Humans, Anatomically modern humans


One of the morphological features that has been identified as uniquely derived for the western Eurasian Neandertals concerns the relative sizes and positions of their semicircular canals. In particular, they exhibit a relatively small anterior canal, a relatively larger lateral one, and a more inferior position of the posterior one relative to the lateral one. These discussions have not included full paleontological data on eastern Eurasian Pleistocene human temporal labyrinths, which have the potential to provide a broader context for assessing Pleistocene Homo trait polarities. We present the temporal labyrinths of four eastern Eurasian Pleistocene Homo, one each of Early (Lantian 1), Middle (Hexian 1), and Late (Xujiayao 15) Pleistocene archaic humans and one early modern human (Liujiang 1). The labyrinths of the two earlier specimens and the most recent one conform to the proportions seen among western early and recent modern humans, reinforcing the modern human pattern as generally ancestral for the genus Homo. The labyrinth of Xujiayao 15 is in the middle of the Neandertal variation and separate from the other samples. This eastern Eurasian labyrinthine dichotomy occurs in the context of none of the distinctive Neandertal external temporal or other cranial features. As such, it raises questions regarding possible cranial and postcranial morphological correlates of Homo labyrinthine variation, the use of individual “Neandertal” features for documenting population affinities, and the nature of late archaic human variation across Eurasia.

Concepts: Human, Neanderthal, Human evolution, Pleistocene, Prehistory, Archaic Homo sapiens, Humans, Anatomically modern humans


Malocclusions are common in modern populations. Yet, as the study of occlusion requires an almost intact dentition in both the maxilla and mandible, searching for the ultimate cause of malocclusion is a challenge: relatively little ancient material is available for research on occlusal states. The Qafzeh 9 skull is unique, as its preserved dentition allowed us to investigate the presence and manifestations of malocclusion. The aim of this study was thus to examine the occlusal condition in the Qafzeh 9 specimen in light of modern knowledge regarding the etiology of malocclusion. We revealed a pathologic occlusion in the Qafzeh 9 skull that probably originated in the early developmental stage of the dentition, and was aggravated by forces applied by mastication. When arch continuity is interrupted due to misalignment of teeth as in this case, force transmission is not equal on both sides, causing intra-arch outcomes such as mesialization of the teeth, midline deviation, rotations and the aggravation of crowding. All are evident in the Qafzeh 9 skull: the midline deviates to the left; the incisors rotate mesio-buccally; the left segment is constricted; the left first molar is buccally positioned and the left premolars palatally tilted. The inter-arch evaluation revealed anterior cross bite with functional shift that might affect force transmission and bite force. In conclusion, the findings of the current study suggest that malocclusion of developmental origin was already present in early anatomically modern humans (AMH) (the present case being the oldest known case, dated to ca. 100,000 years); that there is no basis to the notion that early AMH had a better adjustment between teeth and jaw size; and that jaw-teeth size discrepancy could be found in prehistoric populations and is not a recent phenomenon.

Concepts: Human, Causality, Teeth, Human evolution, Archaic Homo sapiens, Humans, Anatomically modern humans, Homo sapiens idaltu