Recent stories on human evolution continue to illustrate ongoing problems that overturn long-held beliefs.

To hybridize or not to hybridize:  Some paleoanthropologists are now challenging the recently-announced claim that modern humans interbred with Neanderthals, but the proponents of hybridization are standing their ground; see original paper in PNAS (August 14, 2012, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1200567109) and news summaries on Live Science (with artwork of intelligent-looking Neanderthal), PhysOrg (with artwork of dumb-looking Neanderthal), and the BBC News (with artwork of painted Neanderthal).  The debate does not appear settled.  A two-minute video clip in the BBC article contains fascinating facts about the human genome, except for a mistaken reference to “junk DNA.”

Older culture:  Evidence for culture 44,000 years old was announced by the BBC News – a problem since that date is nearly twice the previous date for earliest human culture.  Of special note in the article is this statement:

These new discoveries, however, resemble modern day tools used by San hunter-gatherers so clearly as to remove any doubt as to their purpose.

“You can hold [one of the] ancient artefacts in your left hand and a modern artefact in your right and they’re exactly the same. It’s incredible… the functions are very, very clear,” Dr Backwell told theBBC.

Tales of the teeth:  Chinese and French scientists have dated “hominin” teeth from a cave with unprecedented precision to 1.8 million years, a story on PhysOrg claims.  Unfortunately, a jaw fragment from the Longgupo cave was initially ascribed in 1991 to Homo erectus, but has now been shown to be “indistinguishable from Late Miocene-Pliocene Chinese apes of the genus Lufengpithecus” (Gigantopithecus), the article mentioned.  How, then, did numerous stone-tool artifacts made by humans get in the cave?….

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