December 3, 2012
It can be hard to find gifts for lovers of human evolution. They aren’t as easy to find as, say, dinosaur gifts. So I spent some time cruising the Internet looking for some unusual and unique options for the holidays this year. Here’s what I found.
Something to read:
Over the last year, several books on how modern humans took over the world were published. Lone Survivors by anthropologist Chris Stringer weaves archaeology with genetics to explain why Homo sapiens became the last hominid left on Earth. The Last Lost World by father-and-daughter duo Stephen and Lydia Pyne considers how hominids evolved during the ice ages of the Pleistocene epoch and how scientists’ understanding of this period, lasting some 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago, has changed over time. Anthropologist Ian Tattersall takes an even broader look at the rise of humans, surveying the last 8 million years or so of human evolution in Masters of the Planet. In Homo Mysterious psychologist David Barash examines a number of evolutionary puzzles, including why humans have big brains and why women tend to live longer than men.
If you’re shopping for an uber-hominid fan, consider this simple “I Heart Hominids” bumper sticker, or maybe human evolution decals to jazz up a boring lapotop. I’m hoping for a hominid skull to put in my office: made out of chalkboard, they come in various species and colors. Candle lovers might be intrigued by this unusual candle holder. And who wouldn’t want a Neanderthal piñata?
Some hominid gifts can be fun and practical. Need a bag to carry groceries? How about this “I Love Lucy” cotton tote with a picture of the Lucy skeleton. It comes in several different sizes. Or maybe your loved one would like a pewter key chain of a Paranthropus boisei or Homo erectus skull, which a reader of last year’s Hominid Hunting holiday gift guide suggested. These colorful glass coasters are also useful.
Something to hang on the wall:
I think I’ve said this before–the Taung Child is my favorite hominid fossil. If you know someone else who really digs the specimen, check out this framed drawing of the skull. These woodcut prints of hominid skulls are another good way to spruce up an empty wall. A Bigfoot skeptic (or a believer with a sense of humor) might like this print from Society 6.
Last year, the big ticket items in my gift guide were hominid fossil reproductions. This year, you can give someone his/her genome. With only a sample of saliva, the genetics company 23andMe analyzes an individual’s complete set of DNA to trace the geographic origins of that person’s forefathers and to look for Neanderthal ancestry.
What would you like for the holidays?
August 20, 2012
Last fall, I offered my picks for the best places to see hominid bones online. I thought it was time to share some more great human evolution Web sites that I’ve discovered.
Fossilized.org: This site is filled with a ton of information on the different places where hominid fossils and stone tools have been found. The homepage is a world map locating the archaeological sites. Next to the map is a list of some of these places; clicking on a name brings up a satellite image of the area and more information on the location’s significance. The site also includes a timeline of important events in the history of paleoanthropology, a geologic timescale and a list of all the hominid species, including the year the species was first recognized. Anthropologist William Henry Gilbert of California State University, East Bay made the Web site.
African Fossils: A virtual anthropology lab that feels like a video game, this site is the brainchild of Louise Leakey, Louis and Mary Leakey’s granddaughter. It displays specimens from the collections of the National Museums of Kenya. Still a work in progress, the site lets you navigate through the lab and click on different objects to learn more about them. The best part is playing with the digital, 3-D hominid fossils and rotating them to see the specimens from different angles.
Ardipithecus Handbook: Brought to you by the Discovery Channel, this Web site is an interactive guide to the approximately four-million- to six-million-year-old genus, with a special emphasis on the famous skeleton named Ardi. The handbook offers background on Ethiopia’s Middle Awash, where Ardi and other hominids have been found—including an interactive map that locates and describes different hominid fossils discoveries—as well as a discussion of the genus’s place in the human family tree. The site also has an interactive Ardi skeleton that provides 3-D views of different bones.
Bones, Stones and Genes: The Origin of Modern Humans lecture series: The subject of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s 2011 Holiday Lectures was human evolution, and the institute has archived high-quality videos of these talks. The lectures are given by top anthropologists and are a great introduction to the science of human evolution. Paleoanthropologist Tim White of the University of California, Berkeley discusses his Middle Awash field site, where his team found Ardi and the 160,000-year-old Herto fossils, some of the earliest remains of Homo sapiens. Genetecist Sarah Tishkoff of the University of Pennsylvania offers a tutorial in human genetics. And archaeologist John Shea of Stony Brook University describes the earliest stone tools and the ways in which scientists study them. His talk also includes tool-making demonstrations.
October 26, 2011
Most natural history museums don’t have human evolution exhibits, and if they do, the bones are probably reproductions. The real fossils are usually owned by and housed in the country in which they were found. Fortunately, the Internet offers several places where you can see hominid bones up close. Here are a few of my favorite sites.
Smithsonian Human Origins Program: Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History has a great human evolution exhibit. But for those who can’t make it to Washington, D.C., the museum scanned more than 65 fossils to create 3-D models you can play with online. With the click of a mouse, you can rotate the fossils to get a view from any angle. Each specimen includes information on when and where the fossil was found, how old it is, and in some cases, why it’s important to the study of human evolution. The museum also has online collections of artifacts and primate bones.
eLucy: Unearthed in Ethiopia in 1974, Lucy is a 40 percent complete skeleton of a female Australopithecus afarensis. At eLucy, you can compare Lucy’s bones—her legs, ankle, arms, fingers, ribs, spine, hips and jaw—with the corresponding bones of humans and chimpanzees to see what aspects of Lucy were human-like and what aspects were still primitive. The site, funded by the University of Texas at Austin, uses a lot of technical terms, but it does have a glossary and an FAQ page that provides answers to questions about how Lucy lived and basic questions about evolution. (Fun fact: Lucy’s name comes from the Beatles’ song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” which Lucy’s discoverers were listening to after they found the fossils.)
The Natural History Museum, London: Like the Smithsonian, the Natural History Museum in London has an online collection of interactive 3-D fossils. Although the collection is much smaller—it has only three skulls, of Australopithecus afarensis, Homo erectus and a Neanderthal—the site allows for side-by-side comparisons with either a modern human skull or a chimpanzee skull, or you can contrast the ancient hominids with each other.
The Middle Awash Project: The Middle Awash site in Ethiopia is home to the early hominid Ardipithecus. The Middle Awash Project maintains a database of fossils found at the site—everything from birds to hippos to monkeys to horses. There are a couple ways you can search the database, by age or by animal type. The database uses scientific names, so you may need to Google the terms if you’re unfamiliar with them. To see all of the database’s hominid fossils, choose “Hominidae” for the field called “Family” and hit search. The database has pictures of bones from Homo erectus and Ardipithecus kadabba, which lived 5.7 million years ago. Although the black-and-white pictures aren’t that pretty, you probably won’t find a similar collection of such ancient hominid bones anywhere else online.
ESRF Paleontological Mircotomographic Database: After you agree to the site’s terms and conditions, you can view images of Homo erectus, Neanderthal and early modern human fossils. Scientists created the images at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in France with microtomography, which uses X-rays to make 3-D images of an object. The site doesn’t provide a lot of information about the fossils—although each image includes a reference to an academic paper about the specimen—but the images are neat because they are big and detailed. The database also has pictures of invertebrate fossils such as ammonites, critters preserved in amber and ancient eel-like creatures called conodonts.
Have I missed any good sites? If you have a favorite website to view hominid fossils, let me know in the comments below.