Thursday, May 18, 2017

the palimpsest

I am up to page 97 of In the Footsteps of Eve: The Mystery of Human Origins by Lee R. Berger, paleoanthropologist, when I stop to open my mail to find articles that you, our readers, have sent me. One is “In Smashed Bones of a Mastodon, a dispute over Early Humans” . Is everyone is looking for human origins?
Dr. Berger is searching in South Africa and Dr. Demere
is looking in California.

Dr. Berger discovered an 117,000 year old fossil footprint of a five foot woman on a southern African beach that he calls Eve and he explains what she was thinking about and how he knows all about her. His idea is that South Africa is the landscape of our “most immediate ancestors during the past 200,000 years,” and
not the area of Ethiopia, where Lucy was discovered. He allows that new discoveries could change everything.

In 1992 smashed mastodon bones, bone fragments, 5 rounded rocks and objects resembling hammers were found in San Diego County. Dr. Thomas A. Demere, a paleontologist, and some colleagues say that this is evidence that prehistoric humans – “or another lost species” occupied what is now California 130,000 years ago. The crossing of the Bering Straits has been thought to be much later, making this interpretation of the bones very controversial. NYT 4/27/2017.

The second article in my mailbox is, Scientists Recover Ancient Human DNA from Cave Dirt: Genetic Material without the Bones by Gina Kolata. German scientists have developed methods of finding DNA “even where it seemed impossibly scarce and degraded.” It is very complicated.
Finding DNA in dirt is more difficult than getting it out of bone, but Dr. Hendrik Poinar and his students are using tablespoons on their dig in Colorado. The possibilities of what this technique might allow us to know is amazing— if it works! NYT International 4/28/2017.

New discoveries and new methods appear almost daily in the search for human origins. For more information google the headlines and open the New York Times articles.

Deb Stelton

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