According to the Archaeological Institute of America, archaeology contributes to our understanding of human society through the recovery and study of material remains left by past civilizations. Studying historical human society helps humanity determine processes that underlie past and present human behavior. Some of the discoveries in the last decade truly changed our view of history.
A group of scientists in October 2009 published in Science the discovery of the oldest fossil skeleton of a human ancient ancestor called Ardipithecus Ramidus. Researchers found a nearly complete skeleton of a female nicknamed “Ardi” in Ethiopia. Radiometric dating of volcanic ash at the site revealed that Ardi lived 4.4 million years ago. Ardi’s fossils led to a complete reworking of the popular notion since Darwin’s time that a chimpanzee-like being from 6 million years ago would link humans to apes. The unexpected discovery shows Ardipithecus to be more human than expected including the capacity to walk upright on two legs.
The University of New England at Armidale in Australia in 2004 revealed the discovery a skull found in a cave on the island of Flores in Indonesia. The specimen uncovered revealed a previously unknown hominin species from 18,000 years ago. The fossil dubbed Flores Man represents a rare discovery outside of Africa. Due to the small size of the skull, academics refer to it as the “hobbit” and question whether this discovery represents a separate species or a deformed human. The discovery changed the belief that 25,000 years elapse since the last time modern humans lived on the planet when Neanderthals died out.
Mitochondrial DNA and the Link of Man around the World
Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) contains the genetic code passed on from parents to their off springs. Pakendorf and Stoneking reviewed the studies on mitochondrial DNA over the past decade. According to Action Science, studies of mitochondrial DNA variation in worldwide populations repeatedly found evidence to support the theory of the “Recent African Origin” of modern humans, initially suggested by fossil evidence. The mitochondrial DNA evidence indicates the most recent common ancestor of humans arose in Africa about 100,000 to 200,000 years ago. The discovery disproves the “Out of Africa and Multi-regional” theory that two groups of people populated the world.
Stone Tools found in Oman
According to Plos One, an international team of archaeologists in 2011 found Nubian Middle Stone Age tools in the Oman area of Arabia. Ancient industries known to exist in the Nile Valley of Egypt used these types of tools, but before this discovery, the tools failed to be seen outside of Africa. This new evidence indicates early humans left Africa and crossed the Red Sea into Arabia 106,000 years ago that is earlier than the present biological data of about 70,000 years. Instead of the present day dry desolated environment, the region contained lush grasslands with freshwater and plenty of wild game. Since scientists found the sites inland and not near the ocean, the evidence suggests refutation of the theory of coastal migration out of Africa.
Discovery of the Cascajal Block
The publication, Science, reported on the discovery of a stone block in 2006 with the oldest form of written language in the new world to be revealed to this date. The block, found in Veracruz, Mexico, contains carvings of 62 glyphic signs. The writing appears to be from the Olmec civilization that lived in the area between 1200 BC and 400 BC. The Olmec Society existed before the later multifaceted civilizations of Maya and Aztec. The meaning of the 62 engraved shapes remains unknown, but the pattern appears consistent with a system of writing. If genuine, the block adds to the study on the spread of culture throughout Mesoamerica.
Pakendorf, B. & Stoneking, M. (2005) Mitochondrial DNA and Human Evolution. Annual Review of Genomics & Human Genetics, 6(1):165-185.