Is your interest in Indigenous heritage genuine? Or are you just here to see how it relates to western histories?
In November 2016, Nature published a paper that rewrote history. The place of interest was Warratyi rock shelter. The study proved that humans were occupying arid Australia 49,000 years ago, which at this time was 10,000 years earlier than what was previously reported.
This study also presented evidence of the earliest-known use of ochre in Australia and Southeast Asia. This was coupled with gypsum, bone tools, hafted tools and backed artefacts 10,000 years earlier than anywhere else in the world.
Scientists extract proteins from a molar to uncover details of mysterious species’ origins
A human jawbone found in a cave on the Tibetan plateau has revealed new details about the appearance and lifestyle of a mysterious ancient species called Denisovans.
The 160,000-year-old fossil, comprising a powerful jaw and unusually large teeth, suggests these early relatives would have looked something like the most primitive of the Neanderthals. The discovery also shows that Denisovans lived at extremely high altitude and, through interbreeding, may have passed on gene adaptations for this lifestyle to modern-day Sherpas in the region.
The bestselling environmental historian tells why his latest book, Upheaval, about how countries come through turmoil, is his most political
It is hard to imagine that the renowned environmental historian Jared Diamond’s new book Upheaval could have arrived in the UK at a more timely moment. The subtitle screams its urgent relevance: How Nations Cope with Crisis and Change. If that advice isn’t needed by our political class right now, you wouldn’t want to see when it was.
The book is made up of a number of case studies looking at how different nations have dealt with crises. Diamond examines Finland after its war with the Soviet Union, Chile and the legacy of General Pinochet’s rule, Japan’s response to foreign superiority in the 19th century, Indonesia after the Suharto massacres, Germany’s postwar rebuilding and Australia’s search for a postcolonial identity.
I don’t view myself as a political animal but as someone who’s interested in a lot of things
The creator of Assassin’s Creed is making apes of gamers – reconnecting us with prehistoric survival instincts in virtually untouched gaming territory
When a game, film or TV show takes on the idea of human evolution, it’s usually concerned with the future. What might humans become? How might technology change us? But Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey’s interpretation is literal. You play as a great ape, part of a small troop in a jungle, swinging through trees, picking up sticks and rocks and trying to figure out how to use them to advance the species. It is a fascinating concept, challenging the player to reconnect with the curiosity and ingenuity that helped our distant genetic ancestors to figure out how to progress.
Ancestors opens 10 million years ago with a nature-documentary-style montage of cruel life in the jungle, featuring crocodiles, sabre-toothed cats and giant predatory birds – all eating each other. When an elder ape meets a grisly end in the treetops, the infant creature clinging to its back is thrown to the ground, and you begin the game as a baby desperately searching for somewhere to hide on the forest floor, calling for help. Switching into the body of an adult primate, you pursue the cries through the dense jungle, eventually picking up the infant and returning them to the safety of the tribe.
Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey is out later in 2019, £32.99
Colour, speed, how they ate ... our knowledge of dinosaurs has undergone a revolution, as this expert survey makes clear
“Dinosaur” is still sometimes used as a pejorative. The image of a lumbering swamp monster doomed to extinction has proved too appealing an insult for some to abandon. They should beware, though. Nothing is more out-of-date and stuck-in-the-mud than to imagine that dinosaurs were anything other than astonishingly successful. Over the past half century, a palaeontological revolution has transformed our understanding of them. Recently, it has been picking up ever more dramatic speed. “One by one,” Michael Benton writes, “the speculations about evolution, locomotion, feeding, growth, reproduction, physiology, and, finally, colour have fallen to the drive of transformation.” Dinosaurs these days are the cutting edge.
Benton’s new book explains why. No one with even the faintest interest in the subject will want to miss it. He is one of the world’s most eminent palaeontologists, and throughout his distinguished career has been at the heart of the step change in dinosaur palaeobiology. He is also, though, a natural communicator. As a child, he had yearned to become a palaeontologist so that he could be paid for doing what he loved: “collecting fossils, drawing ancient creatures, and reading about dinosaurs endlessly”. As a professor, he has made sure to pay back his debt to the amateur enthusiast he once was. He served as a consultant on the BBC’s Walking With Dinosaurs; he founded an education programme to take palaeontology into schools. Now, with The Dinosaurs Rediscovered, he has written a book for the general reader that explains not just what specialists know about them, but how they have come to that point. It is an account, as Benton puts it, of “the transformation of palaeontology into science”.
Scientists can now be confident how fast a T rex could move – in a way that would have been impossible when Jurassic Park was released
Following the true story of scientist Henry Bates in the 1840s, this satisfying film uses Imax tech to provide astonishing wildlife detail
In places, this satisfying Imax edutainment brings forth happy memories of James Gray’s excellent The Lost City of Z. It’s a tribute to another overshadowed historical figure, that of Henry Walter Bates, the Leicester-born amateur scientist – and Alfred Wallace associate – who struck out for the Amazon in 1848, charged with collecting insects at threepence per bug, and in so doing indirectly gathered the evolutionary proofs that backed up Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. What Bates (embodied here by an engaging Calum Finlay) observed in these parts – when he wasn’t bleary-eyed from malaria – were “leaves that could fly, bird droppings that could walk”: ie those craftier critters whose predator-bamboozling camouflage was so well-developed they hadn’t previously been spotted. This is what scientists call “Batesian mimicry”.
Director Mike Slee (who enjoyed a big Imax hit with the Judi Dench-narrated Bugs! in 2003) and screenwriters Carl Knutson and Wendy MacKeigan recognise that Bates’s fieldwork might itself pass usefully for Saturday morning matinee fare. Verdant Brazilian location work plunges us from the opening moments into a fully immersive jungle environment, complete with such adventure-movie staples as shipwrecks, hungry leopards and mischievous monkeys. Yet the team also find smart and invariably visual means of illustrating their human subject’s breakthroughs. When a chain of stereoscopic butterflies flutters across our field of vision, each insect bearing similar yet subtly distinct markings, it’s the 3D equivalent of a lightbulb moment: you feel you could literally grasp Bates’s working method.
Homo luzonensis fossils found in Luzon island cave, dating back up to 67,000 years
A new species of ancient human, thought to have been under 4ft tall and adapted to climbing trees, has been discovered in the Philippines, providing a twist in the story of human evolution.
The specimen, named Homo luzonensis, was excavated from Callao cave on Luzon island in the northern Philippines and has been dated to 50,000-67,000 years ago – when our own ancestors and the Neanderthals were spreading across Europe and into Asia.
The excavation of the extraordinary fossil Peregocetus pacificus in Peru is a reminder of the wonders still awaiting discovery
Whales used to live on land. This fact never ceases to amaze me. Even though every living species of cetacean – from the immense blue whale to the river dolphins of the Amazon basin – is entirely aquatic, there were times when the word “whale” applied entirely to amphibious, crocodile-like beasts that splashed around at the water’s edge. This week, paleontologists named another.
Gateshead, Tyne and Wear: This ancient, tenacious plant has already weathered three mass extinctions
Every April, rocket-shaped, yellow, nine-inch reproductive shoots of field horsetail (Equisetum arvense), tipped with small cones, erupt through this patch of waste ground beside Mill Road car park on the bank of the river Tyne. They’ll soon wither, after they’ve released their payload of spores. Then forests of green, corrugated stems and whorls of thread-like leaves, shaped like miniature Christmas trees, will rise from their creeping underground stems.
Charmouth, Dorset: The eroding cliffs spill ammonites back into the sea, while fossil hunters filter along the beach
The crashing waves throw up a misty-grey haze as they break against the bottom of crumbling ashen cliffs that slouch on to the top of the beach. The backdrop is the imposing hulk of Golden Cap, its sandstone-topped, ragged, seaward face cascading at 45 degrees for 200 metres to meet the churning waters.