The challenge of direct dating old human fossils

Human evolution had a nice clear line from Lucy 3.2 million years ago to — us. “It was wonderfully Darwinian,” said William Kimbel, director of the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University. “Fifty years ago, it was pleasing and consistent that there was one early Homo form,” he said.“And it now appears to be much more complicated.” A digital reconstruction in the journal Nature this week brings into focus.Since events that occurred more than a million years ago are difficult to reconstruct, paleontologists welcome additional lines of evidence relevant to those details and expect our understandings of them to be refined as evidence accumulates.

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“It’s a competitive sport,” Lee Berger says of paleoanthropology.

The field is split between those who consider him a visionary for sharing his fossil data and those who worry that he places showmanship over rigor.

Caving is a form of improvisation: you say yes to whatever door the earth opens. The cavers hadn’t been searching for fossils that day, but they knew someone who would be very eager to see them: a paleoanthropologist named Lee Berger.

The vertical crevice measured barely seven inches wide, but Tucker, a human reed, was able to squirm down it. Fossils of hominins—ancestral humans and their relatives—have been discovered in South Africa since the nineteenth century, when prospectors started blasting for lime, which is used in refining gold.

One evening in September, 2013, two amateur cavers, Steven Tucker and Rick Hunter, drove into a swath of semi-wilderness an hour northwest of Johannesburg and parked at the foot of a stony slope.

Last modified 14-Mar-2017 21:54