Hominins on the Briny and Other Human Evolution Stories in 2022

Ruth Schuster
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Ruth Schuster
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Ruth Schuster

Could early humans sail? How did hominins like their fish done a million years ago? Who walked on that beach in Spain 300,000 years ago? In fact, how far back does hominin bipedalism go, and how did it arise exactly? Many and myriad are the surprises unearthed in 2022 on our origins, including the unexpected thesis that we sapiens were not always one. The discovery of a Denisovan girl in Laos finally proved that species’ postulated vast range. In Spain, archaeologists detect when Neanderthals went extinct – and were replaced by other Neanderthals. A genetic study casts unexpected light on the first farmers – and it isn’t who we thought. All this and much more in the Haaretz roundup of human evolution stories in 2022.

The chimpanzee clue
Standing tall, in trees

Why did early humans go bipedal? The thinking is, because the jungles shrank, the savanna grew and we had to adapt. But observing our cousins suggests something else:

Chimps study suggests unexpected origin for human bipedalism

Walk this way
In Chad, leaving chimps behind

Seven million years ago, Sahelanthropus tchadensis – one of the earliest hominins following the split from the chimpanzee – was walking on two legs, paleoanthropologists claim. That doesn’t mean later hominins weren’t arboreal and we can’t say tchadensis was our ancestor, but it is intriguing:

Early Hominin was walking 7 million years ago, study confirms

Missing link no more
Single bone changes human evolution story

A child died in the Jordan Valley 1.5 million years ago – and wasn’t the same species as the hominins who reached central Asia 1.8 million years ago. Israeli archaeologists prove multiple exits from Africa, by more than one human species:

Archaeologists discover missing link in human evolution, in Israel

The cooking ape
‘Detectives’ deduce fire use a million years ago

No hearths, no charcoal, not even one lousy burned bone – yet archaeologists in Israel managed to deduce that somebody was using fire a million years ago in what is today Evron Quarry in Israel:

Archaeologists detect Hominin use of fire a million years ago in Israel

Hominins at sea
Could early humans sail?
Crete satellite

It is, archaeologists point out, difficult to figure out how hominins reached Mediterranean (and other) islands that have been surrounded by ocean for millions of years. But reach them they did, based on stone tool discoveries:

Hominins were sailing the Mediterranean half a million years ago, study finds

To be human
Is to split up
Broken Hill skull

At some point in our deep ancestry, what would become the Homo line split from the chimpanzee. At some much later point, a few hundred thousand years ago, our sapiens line split from – well, we don’t know who, but split it did – and then our ancestral group split into three groups. You guessed it, later they would meet up again:

Modern humans began to evolve, and almost immediately split into three groups

Neanderthals? Is that you?
Redating footprints changes everything, sort of
All human-type footprints look alike.

Illustrating how baffling human evolution is, somebody walked on a mudflat in what would become Spain. The question is when, and that pertains to who. You can tell a chicken’s footprint from a labrador’s, but between human species? Only the dating can help and even then it can’t, really:

Mysterious footprints in Spain were made 300,000 years ago

Denisovans, finally
A smoking tooth found in Laos

The human variant called Denisovans were first discovered in a cave in Siberia, by genetic analysis of a single fingerbone. And that’s where the evidence stayed until genetic analysis of modern folk indicated they occupied all of Asia, and until pretty recently at that. Possible traces were found in Tibet and China – and now finally a smoking tooth has been found in Laos, from a little Denisovan girl:

Little Denisovan girl’s tooth found in Laos, proving species’ vast range

Extinction event
They were gone. And then they weren’t

Different stone tool technologies at a site in northern Spain indicate migration by Neanderthals, and population replacement of Neanderthals – by other Neanderthals:

Neanderthals went extinct in Iberia, and were replaced – by other Neanderthals

Meet the Ogs
Extended Neanderthal family features foreign brides

Genetic analysis of 11 Neanderthals living in a cave in Siberia shows father and daughter, a cousin – and indications that Neanderthal females came from afar:

Ancient DNA provides first insights into Neanderthal family

Mystery in Micronesia
An origin story in the Pacific

Far out in the Pacific Ocean, the islands of Micronesia were only peopled 3,500 years ago. Turns out, it didn’t happen as had been assumed:

DNA analysis of ancient Micronesians has unexpected result

The seed
First farmers: Guess who

It has become practically a matter of dogma that agriculture first arose in the Fertile Crescent / southeast Turkey / that area, anyway, at least in this part of the world. But did the hunter-gatherers of Anatolia have an epiphany and beget the earliest farmers, or were they somebody else entirely?

Genetic study detects unexpected origin of world’s first farmers

But is it art?
Didn’t prehistoric Israel have muses?

No question, prehistoric modern humans were capable of some stunning examples of art, some apparently created when they were stoned out of their skulls. We don’t know if other human species made art, though none has been found or identified – nor has any at all been found in Israel. And this is why?

A brief history of prehistoric art and why Israel doesn't have any

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