Saturday, February 25, 2006


Classic Papers on Human Origins from Nature Magazine

1) Dart, R. A. Australopithecus africanus:
The Man-Ape of South Africa
Nature 115, 195-199 (1925)
When Dart, an anatomist from South Africa, reported the first 'ape-man', he was derided by the same people who fell for the fraudulent Piltdown Man. But Piltdown was a fake and Dart was vindicated. The modern study of human origins starts here.

2) Leakey, L. S. B.
A new fossil skull from Olduvai
Nature 184, 491-493 (1959)
Fossil-hunter Louis Leakey had been scouring East Africa for clues about human origins in vain for 30 years before he (or rather, his wife) hit the jackpot at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. The new player on the fossil scene was lantern-jawed 'Nutcracker man'.

3) Leakey, L. S. B., Tobias, P. V. and Napier, J. R.
A new species of the genus Homo from Olduvai Gorge.
Nature 202, 7-9 (1964) Leakey scores again with fossils associated with primitive tools. He announces Homo habilis - 'handy man' - the first fossil member of our own genus; and with him, the first stirrings of technology.

4) Leakey, R. E. F.
Evidence for an advanced Plio-Pleistocene hominid from East Rudolf, Kenya
Nature 242, 447-450 (1973)
Richard Leakey - son of Louis - describes a skull as iconic as they come, but always known enigmatically as '1470'. Thought to belong to an early form of Homo (now Homo rudolfensis), this specimen is a key fossil in the understanding of human origins.

5) Johanson, D. C. and Taieb, M.
Plio-Pleistocene hominid discoveries in Hadar, Ethiopia
Nature 260, 293-297 (1976)
Donald Johanson pushes the human story back beyond the 3-million-year- mark with a skeleton, later assigned to Australopithecus afarensis. The skeleton is now known as 'Lucy', after Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, the Beatles' tune popular in the field camp.

6) Leakey, M. D. and Hay, R. L.
Pliocene footprints in the Laetolil Beds at Laetoli, northern Tanzania
Nature 278, 317-323 (1979)
When a volcanic eruption sent a rain of ash over what is now Tanzania, an adult and child, probably both Australopithecus afarensis, set out to watch the show - leaving, as a poignant souvenir, perfect and very modern-looking footprints, preserved in the ashfall.

7) Brown, F., Harris, J., Leakey, R. and Walker, A.
Early Homo erectus skeleton from west Lake Turkana, Kenya
Nature 316, 788-792 (1985)
This report of a young but surprisingly tall young Homo erectus male raises many questions about our own African genesis, and the origins of that very human feature called 'childhood'.

8) Cann, R. L., Stoneking, M. & Wilson, A.
Mitochondrial DNA and human evolution
Nature 325, 31-36 (1987) A molecular bombshell that traces the human story by comparing mitochondrial DNA frrom modern humans. The message is clear - all modern humans have their roots in Africa, and surprisingly recently, between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago.

9) Arsuaga, J.-L., Martínez, I., Gracia, A., Carretero, J.-M. & Carbonell, A.
Three new human skulls from the Sima de los Huesos Middle Pleistocene site in Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain
Nature 362, 534-537 (1993) The 'Pit of Bones' near Burgos in Spain is a treasure-trove of information on the first Europeans. At around 300,000 years old, these skulls may have been close to the ancestry of the classic caveman, Neanderthal Man.

10) White, T. D., Suwa, G. and Asfaw, B.
Australopithecus ramidus, a new species of early hominid from Aramis, Ethiopia
Nature 371, 306-312 (1994) Now known as Ardipithecus ramidus, this extremely primitive creature was the first member of the human family known from beyond 4 million years ago. Still controversial, its affinities with the new finds from Chad have yet to be investigated.


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