Razib Khan One-stop-shopping for all of my content

August 1, 2011

Non-zero sum transitions in the human past

A few people have pointed me to the recent paper in Science, Tenfold Population Increase in Western Europe at the Neandertal–to–Modern Human Transition. The basic result is obvious, and not totally revolutionary: anatomically modern humans may simply have demographically absorbed the Neandertals (the word “absorbed” has many connotations here obviously). The results are clear in this figure:

This is not surprising, even though I have only a glancing familiarity with the guts of paleontology I was aware that there’s a lot of inferential evidence that Neandertals were not as efficient at extracting resources from any given piece of territory as modern humans. In The Dawn of Human Culture the paleoanthropologist Richard Klein offered a straightforward biological explanation for why and how the neo-African populations so rapidly marginalized Neandertals: some sort of macromutation which allowed for language and so the protean flexibility of human culture.


Implicitly this was the conventional wisdom until the likelihood of Neandertal admixture was discovered, and earlier the fact that Neandertals seemed to share the derived FOXP2 variant (the “language gene”). The earlier inferences of human demography using mtDNA, and later ancient ...

March 1, 2010

Ostrich shell art in South Africa 60,000 years ago

There’s a new paper in PNAS reviewing the tradition of etching on ostrich shells. Since it’s PNAS, the paper isn’t on the website, but Edward Edmund Yong is able to cover the major points thanks to his access. This stuff is of interest because there was a long time lag between the emergence of anatomically modern humans in Africa, and their subsequent expansion out of Africa ~50,000 years ago, the crystallization of “behavioral modernity.”

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