Anthropology & Archaeology

Science News, December 22, 2007 | Go to article overview

Anthropology & Archaeology


Eastern roots A mix of anatomical traits on a 40,000-year-old partial human skeleton unearthed in China supported the controversial possibility of interbreeding among Stone Age Homo species (171: 211).

Early walkers New fossil finds showed that 1.77-million-year-old human ancestors trekked from Africa to Asia using legs, feet, and spines shaped much like ours, although they had small brains and apelike arms (172:179 *).

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Researchers excavated a 4,600-year-old village in southern England that was inhabited by the same people who built nearby Stonehenge as a memorial to their dead (171: 67).

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A coastal South African cave yielded evidence of surprisingly complex behaviors, including shellfish harvesting and pigment use, about 164,000 years ago (172: 243).

Pacific trips DNA extracted from a chicken bone found in Chile suggested that Polynesian seafarers brought poultry to South America by about 620 years ago (171: 356 *). Other evidence indicated that, roughly 1,000 years ago, Polynesians sailed canoes to Hawaii and back (172:198).

Chimp hunters Researchers for the first time observed wild chimpanzees, mainly females and youngsters, making and using tools for hunting small animals (171: 131 *). An excavation in western Africa revealed that a chimp stone age started at least 4,300 years ago (171: 99 *).

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A new analysis of fossil teeth from the fossilized remains of a nearly 8-year-old child suggested that people evolved an extended childhood at least 160,000 years ago (171: 163).

Tree walking Field work in Indonesia demonstrated that orangutans at times walk upright much as people do, suggesting that an upright stance evolved in a common ancestor of all living apes (172: 72 *).

Tool time Primate and brain-scan studies converged on the notion that human tool use grew out of an evolutionarily ancient neural capacity for manipulating objects (171: 88).

Astronomy

Alien orbs Astronomers found what they are calling Earth's closest known analog outside the solar system, an object with an average temperature that may allow water to be liquid (171: 259 *). A newly discovered planet outside the solar system--an exoplanet--appeared to be Neptune-sized and composed mainly of water solidified under high pressure (171: 308 *). Researchers for the first time recorded the spectra of radiation emitted by two exoplanets (171: 115 *). They also discovered the largest--and lowest-density--exoplanet yet found (172: 174).

Blooming comets Flaunting a majestic tail over southern skies, Comet McNaught became the brightest comet in more than 40 years (171: 52). In late October, Comet 17P/Holmes suddenly burst into brightness and became a naked-eye object for several weeks (172: 309).

Five in one With the discovery of a fifth planet circling the nearby star 55 Cancri, astronomers found the most populous--and heaviest--planetary system beyond the sun's (172: 334).

Death and life An exoplanet survived after its aging parent star ballooned into a red giant that almost engulfed it (172: 163), while infrared observations depicted dusty vestiges of a planetary system dancing around a dead star (171: 100). Material shed by a dying star might give birth to planets, researchers reported (171: 62).

Planetary prelude An infrared portrait of an embryonic, sunlike star revealed an early, crucial step in the process of planet formation (172: 358).

Joe average A collection of low-mass galaxies, dating from when the universe was just 2 billion years old, appeared to be the typical building blocks of large galaxies like the Milky Way (172:373).

In transit Observations of minieclipses that occur when a distant planet passes in front of its parent star revealed new insights into the size, composition, and temperature of exoplanets (172: 24 *). …

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