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Solving the puzzle
of our human origins 

October 2018 volume 2.3
Our featured stories each highlight how important and unique human cooperation is to the success of our species—whether it is researching how our ancestors adapted to a changeable climate, understanding how culture is transmitted from one person to another, or connecting with others through friendship. We each stand on the evolutionary shoulders of our ancestors as a link in a chain.

IHO Founding Director Don Johanson says that humans are a curious animal, perhaps the most curious of all. And that curiosity, through shared efforts, has led us to find answers to the most pressing problems of our past, present, and future.

Don't miss an opportunity to learn more about how IHO is solving the puzzle of our human origins—join us in New York on November 9 for an engaging lecture by one of IHO's alumni—Jessica Thompson, PhD. More information is included below.

Have a wonderful holiday season!


Featured stories

Articles highlighting news, partnerships, and research

Drilling into the climate-human evolutionary connection

The Hominin Sites and Paleolakes Drilling Project (HSPDP) comprises a multinational research effort, including researchers from Arizona State University and more than 20 other institutions, which will help scientists better understand the dynamics that link climatic and evolutionary histories. Six drilling sites in Kenya and Ethiopia were chosen to collect deep earth cores to understand climate fluctuations at terrestrial sites close to areas where major collections of human evolution fossil evidence have been found.
Analysis of drilled cores from Lake Magadi, Kenya, documents for the first time an increasing drying or aridification of the region since around 575,000 years ago, with evidence that this long-term drying trend was interrupted by many wet-dry cycles.  
Arizona State University researcher and co-author Christopher Campisano is the HSPDP scientific project manager and was involved in the drilling at Lake Magadi. Campisano is a research associate with the Institute of Human Origins and associate professor with the  School of Human Evolution and Social Change.

Read more about the research at ASU Now.

A crowd of people in a busy intersection

Evolution of humans as a cultural organism

Why and when did humans begin to rely on culturally transmitted information? Does culture allow humans to adapt to a wide range of ecological habitats? Is culture responsible for why humans cooperate with genetically unrelated individuals? How do genes and culture affect each other’s evolution?
These are the questions that researchers in the field of cultural evolution seek to answer.
Cultural evolution is the study of how and why culture changes over time. The core idea is that cultural change shares fundamental similarities with genetic evolution.

Within the School of Human Evolution and Social Change (SHESC), a cadre of scholars has united under the research group Adaptation, Behavior, Culture, and Society (ABCS), which is piecing together the diverse ways that humans and nonhuman primates cooperate and accumulate culture. These researchers are also part of the Institute of Human Origins research group.

Because of this group, ASU has become a leader in the world for researching culture from an evolutionary perspective and hosted hundreds of researchers from a myriad of fields during October for the second annual Cultural Evolution Society global conference.
Read more about cultural evolution research and the conference.

Do baboons make friends?

IHO Research Affiliate Joan Silk studies how natural selection shapes the evolution of social behavior in primates, mainly baboons. Silk is also a Professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change.
There is no phenomenon like friendship in baboons, but there are some similarities. Surprisingly, baboon relationships may be healthier for them than human friendship is for people. And while both baboons and humans help each other, it takes different forms.
“It’s not relaxing to be a baboon,” Silk said. “They’re constantly afraid of various things.”

Baboons are stressed pretty much most of the time. They’re about the size of an average dog, and everything around them wants to kill them. Males beat females, and females beat younger females.
“I wouldn’t claim that there is a phenomenon exactly like friendship in baboons,” Silk said. “But nonetheless I do think there’s a real connection here. It just works a little differently. I actually think the parallels are quite meaningful.”
Read more about studying friendship in humans and primates in an ASU Now article. Read more about Silk's research on baboon and prosocial behavior.


New publications

The newest developments in human origins science from IHO
(IHO-related researchers in bold; a subscription is required to access the full article) 

Agent-based least-cost path analysis and the diffusion of Cantabrian Lower Magdalenian engraved scapulae
Journal of Archaeological Science vol 99: 1–9
November 2018
Claudine Gravel-Miguel, Colin D. Wren
Late Pleistocene records of speleothem stable isotopic compositions from Pinnacle Point on the South African south coast
Quaternary Research
October 2018
Kerstin Braun, Miryam Bar-Matthews, Alan Matthews, Avner Ayalon, Erich C. Fisher, Kelsey Dyez, Tami Zilberman, Curtis W. Marean
Progressive aridification in East Africa over the last half million years and implications for human evolution
Published science for featured story above
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
October 2018
R. Bernhart Owen, Veronica M. Muiruri, Tim K. Lowenstein, Robin W. Renaut, Nathan Rabideaux, Shangde Luo, Alan L. Deino, Mark J. Sier, Guillaume Dupont-Nivet, Emma P. McNulty, Kennie Leet, Andrew Cohen, Christopher Campisano, Daniel Deocampo, Chuan-Chou S 

Featured events

Engage with IHO scientists and research
IHO Annual New York Event

Friday, November 9, 2018
5:30 to 8:30 pm
Metropolitan Club
New York City

This will be the fifth year that IHO has hosted one of the preeminent human origins science events in New York City. This event continues to grow in size, so for last and this year, the event is at the storied and beautiful Metropolitan Club across from Central Park. 

This year's lecture will be given by IHO alumna Jessica Thompson PhD, who is currently an Assistant Professor at Emory University. She and IHO Associate Director Curtis Marean have provocative new ideas about how the earliest human ancestors began consuming fats from animal brains and bones, changing the direction of human evolution.

​Read more about this event—which also raises funds for research and student scholarships—here.

Purchase Tickets
Marean to speak at Aquarium of the Pacific

Wednesday, January 16, 2019
7:00 pm
Aquarium of the Pacific
Long Beach, California

Scientific evidence suggests that the origin population of all modern humans resided in the southern African sub-region, perhaps in a coastal context. The oldest evidence for coastal resource use comes from Pinnacle Point on the south coast of South Africa, where a scientific team has been conducting research on these original coastal people for nearly twenty years. IHO Associate Director Curtis W. Marean will discuss ancient humans’ reliance on seafood and how human evolution may have been impacted by struggles over this resource. 

Ticket and Location Information

Noted and quoted

IHO science coverage and expertise in the media

Johanson answering a question for Ask An Anthropologist.

Ask An Anthropologist Answers the Question: 
How did you know where to find "Lucy"?

Over the next few months, look for IHO Founding Director Don Johanson to answer some often asked questions about the discovery of "Lucy" and subsequent research on her species—Australopithecus afarensis. These terrific videos will be posted on IHO's YouTube channel and the "Dr. Anthropology" Facebook page. If you have not "liked" or "followed" these great resources, what are you waiting for? 

Watch the video now!

What's mine is yours, sort of: Bonobos and the tricky evolutionary roots of sharing

An intriguing study suggests that bonobos, among the closest relatives to humans, are surprisingly willing to hand over food to a pal. But they didn't share tools. The discovery adds a new wrinkle to scientists’ efforts to understand the evolutionary origins of people’s unusual propensity to help others.
In the wild, sharing of food by chimps typically happens after a rare hunt, and the “sharing” of meat often involves the passive tolerance of theft or simply giving in to relentless begging and harassment by others.
In contrast, the bonobos voluntarily handed over nuts that were solidly in their possession.
IHO Research Affiliate Joan Silk, who was not involved in the study, says she found the paper surprising and would like to see the results replicated in multiple groups of bonobos. Silk is also a Professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change.
“If we found out that chimps are more likely to exchange tools than bonobos are, then I don't know what we’d think,” says Silk, noting that chimps may have a different understanding about the value of tools, simply because they use them more.
Sharing is a much bigger part of life in humans than it is for these other apes, Silk adds; but researchers don’t yet know if the difference is simply quantitative or whether humans approach sharing and helping in a fundamentally different way. Young children demonstrate a surprising willingness to share, says Silk—though that may come as a surprise to parents who constantly have to remind their kids to do so.
“Children are very generous,” insists Silk, who has studied sharing behavior, not just in chimps but also in young kids.
“Compared to chimpanzees,” she says, “your children are saints.”

Of interest

Top stories from around ASU
ASU ranked most innovative school for the 4th straight year

For the fourth year in a row, Arizona State University has been named the most innovative school in the nation, recognizing a mindset of innovation across the institution which has led to a culture of groundbreaking research and partnerships, as well as its commitment to helping students thrive in college and beyond.

U.S. News and World Report has named ASU as the most innovative university all four years the category has existed. The widely publicized annual rankings by the magazine, which compares more than 1,500 institutions on a variety of metrics

Read the full story at ASU Now.
CLAS Top 5 Fun Facts

By Melissa Wilson Sayres, IHO Research Affiliate and Assistant Professor, School of Life Sciences

1. On average, any two people are identical at 999 out of 1000 DNA positions.

2. Both dogs and humans have genetic adaptation to starchy diets.

3. There are no genetic differences that distinguish male and female desert tortoises—sex is determined by temperature!

4. In honeybees, males have half as many chromosomes as females.

5. The platypus has 10 sex chromosomes. 

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