Dan Lynch is the public spokesman for the 1940 Census Community Project, and he stops by Google to discuss the latest news from it.
Louise Leakey asks, “Who are we?” The question takes her to the Rift Valley in Eastern Africa, where she digs for the evolutionary origins of humankind — and suggests a stunning new vision of our competing ancestors.
Louise Leakey hunts for hominid fossils in East Africa, in the family tradition.
Why you should listen to her:
Louise Leakey is the third generation of her family to dig for humanity’s past in East Africa. In 2001, Leakey and her mother, Meave, found a previously unknown hominid, the 3.5-million-year-old Kenyanthropus platyops, at Lake Turkana — the same region where her father, Richard, discovered the “Turkana Boy” fossil, and near Tanzania‘s Olduvai Gorge, where her grandparents, Louise and Mary Leakey, discovered the bones of Homo habilis.
In August 2007 Louise and Meave, both National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence, dug up new H. habilis bones that may rewrite humanity’s evolutionary timeline. We imagine that we evolved from apes in an orderly progression from ape to hominid to human, but the Leakeys’ find suggests that different species of pre-humans actually lived side by side at the same time for almost half a million years.
“[The] upper jaw bone of Homo habilis dates from 1.44 million years ago. This late survivor shows that Homo habilis and Homo erectus lived side by side in eastern Africa for nearly half a million years.” Koobi Fora Research Project
Paleoanthropologist Zeresenay Alemseged looks for the roots of humanity in Ethiopia‘s badlands. Here he talks about finding the oldest skeleton of a humanoid child — and how Africa holds the clues to our humanity.
Zeresenay “Zeray” Alemseged digs in the Ethiopian desert, looking for the earliest signs of humanity. His most exciting find: the 3.3-million-year-old bones of Selam, a 3-year-old hominid child, from the species Australopithecus afarensis.
Why you should listen to him:
Paleoanthropologist Zeresenay Alemseged studies the origins of humanity. Through his Dikika Research Project (DRP) in the Afar desert of Ethiopia, he has discovered the earliest known skeleton of a hominid child, the 3.3-million-year-old bones of Selam, a 3-year-old girl of the species Australopithecus afarensis. She is a member of the same species as Lucy, discovered nearby in 1974.
In studying Selam’s tiny bones, Alemseged is searching for the points at which we humans diverged from apes. For instance, Selam may have had ape-like shoulders, made for climbing trees — but her legs were angled for walking upright. Her young brain, at age 3, was still growing, which implies that she was set to have a long human-style childhood. And in the hyoid bone of her throat, Alemseged sees the beginning of human speech.
Born in Axum, Ethiopia, Alemseged is based in San Francisco at the California Academy of Sciences where is is the Director and Curator of the Anthropology department. Prior to this, he was a senior researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. To see more video from Alemseged, visit the video archives of Nature.