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The Top 10 Human Evolution Discoveries in 2021. Source: Ancient Origins

The Top 10 Revelations in Human Evolution in 2021

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The year 2021 was filled with all kinds of human evolution discoveries and scientific progress. From the 250,000-year-old skeletal remains of a Homo naledi child in South Africa, to the smiley face of a Dutch Neanderthal called Krijn, we've put together our top ten human evolution discoveries for your reading pleasure.

Skeleton of an Archaic Homo Naledi Child Found in Rising Star Cave

The skull of the Homo naledi child named Leti found in the lowest levels of South Africa’s Rising Star cave system. (University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg)

The skull of the Homo naledi child named Leti found in the lowest levels of South Africa’s Rising Star cave system. ( University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg )

A team of South African and American archaeologists exploring the Rising Star cave system in central South Africa discovered something that seems quite anomalous. In the deepest, darkest recesses of an almost inaccessible part of one cave, they found the skeletal remains of a small child who likely lived between 250,000 and 300,000 years ago, during the Middle Pleistocene epoch. The child belonged to the mysterious archaic human species  Homo naledi , which is known about exclusively from explorations of the Rising Star cave system.

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It Really Was a Planet of the Apes Two Million Years Ago

New research shows that early human brains were more ape-like than modern. (M. Ponce de León and Ch. Zollikofer / University of Zurich)

New research shows that early human brains were more ape-like than modern. ( M. Ponce de León and Ch. Zollikofer / University of Zurich )

Genetic research on Homo skulls discovered at Dmanisi, Georgia, and published in Science by University of Zurich paleoanthropologists back in April 2021, showed that early human brains were “much more ape-like” than those of modern humans. What this means is that the first waves of human ancestors to migrate out of Africa were perhaps much more primitive than previously considered.

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Neanderthal Child Development Was Faster than Humans, Study Reveals

The recent study, based on five baby teeth found at the Krapina site in Croatia, revealed that Neanderthal child development was faster than the maturation process in modern humans. (Patrick Mahoney et al / The Royal Society )

The recent study, based on five baby teeth found at the Krapina site in Croatia, revealed that Neanderthal child development was faster than the maturation process in modern humans. (Patrick Mahoney et al /  The Royal Society  )

A study of Neanderthal baby teeth recovered from a fossil site in Croatia, whose results were published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B , concluded that Neanderthal development was faster than the maturation process in modern humans. This means that Neanderthal children were able to reach physical maturity at earlier ages, thereby improving their odds of survival in the challenging environmental conditions of the Pleistocene era.

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Is this the Face of Krijn, the First Neanderthal of the Netherlands?

The reconstructed face of Krijn thr Neanderthal from Doggerland. (Servaas Neijens / Rijksmuseum)

The reconstructed face of Krijn thr Neanderthal from Doggerland. (Servaas Neijens /  Rijksmuseum)

The first-ever Neanderthal found in The Netherlands, who scientists call Krijn, was brought more fully to life in 2021. A pair of “paleo-artists” who specialize in making life-like reconstructions of fossilized specimens have provided the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden) with a sculpted version of this young Neanderthal’s face. The Kennis Brothers, who are based in Arnhem in The Netherlands, have chosen to portray Krijn with a big smile, which counteracts the usual dour image of our long-extinct evolutionary cousins.

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New Research Shows Philippine Indigenous Group Has Most Denisovan DNA

Left: Award-winning reconstruction of the Denisovan face. (Maayan-Harel) Right_ Young Aeta girl from Mariveles, Bataan, in 1901. (Public domain)

Left: Award-winning reconstruction of the Denisovan face. (Maayan-Harel) Right_ Young Aeta girl from Mariveles, Bataan, in 1901. ( Public domain )

Scientists discovered that a small indigenous group surviving on the Bataan Peninsula on the Philippine island of Luzon has more Denisovan DNA than any other ethnic population in the world. At least, that was the conclusion of an international team of evolutionary geneticists, led by Maximilian Larena and Mattias Jakobsson from Uppsala University in Sweden, who examined more than 2.3 million genetic samples taken from 118 Philippine Island ethnic groups. Writing in the journal  Current Biology , the scientists explained that they were searching for answers about humanity’s complex and fascinating evolutionary past, including the truth about its interrelationships with its hominin cousins, the Neanderthals and the  Denisovans.

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‘Dragon Man’ Skull Found in China May Be ANOTHER New Human Species

A full-length artist's impression of what the human species ‘Dragon Man’ could have looked like. (Chuang Zhao / The Innovation)

A full-length artist's impression of what the human species ‘Dragon Man’ could have looked like. (Chuang Zhao /  The Innovation )

In the August 2021 edition of the journal  The Innovation , a team of evolutionary scientists led by Professor Qiang Ji from Hebei GEO University in Shijiazhuang, China announced the discovery of a new human species. Their startling conclusion was based on the results of a sophisticated computer analysis of a strange human-like skull that emerged three years ago from a source in northern China .

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Discovery of Genetic Mutation That Separates Humans and Neanderthals

A new study has unearthed a genetic mutation which distinguishes modern humans from Neanderthals. (Pavel Odinev / Skoltech)

A new study has unearthed a genetic mutation which distinguishes modern humans from Neanderthals. (Pavel Odinev /  Skoltech)

An international team of scientists representing Russia, Germany, and the United States have found a unique mechanism at work in the DNA of human beings that helped shape our species’ evolution, announced the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) in May 2021. The researchers explained that they believed this unusual feature, a genetic mutation , may have played a primary role in our overall evolutionary success, helping to make us smarter and more adaptable than similar species that did not survive into the modern era.

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Genetic Study of Romanian Skull Upends Previous Theories of Evolution

The genetic study includes the entire genome sequence of a woman who lived 35,000 years ago, extracted from a skull found in Romania in the Peştera Muierii cave. (Mattias Jakobsson / Uppsala University)

The genetic study includes the entire genome sequence of a woman who lived 35,000 years ago, extracted from a skull found in Romania in the Peştera Muierii cave. (Mattias Jakobsson / Uppsala University )

A team of researchers led by the Swedish Uppsala University geneticist Mattias Jakobsson fully sequenced the genome of a woman who lived in Europe at least 35,000 years ago. Her DNA was extracted from a skull that was found buried in a cave called Peştera Muierii in  Romania and it is one of the oldest genomes to ever be decoded in its entirety. This achievement represented a remarkable breakthrough for scientists searching for answers about humanity’s  evolutionary history , which has proven to be a complex story filled with many twists and turns. 

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Humanity’s First Ancestor is 2 Million Years Old, Skull Fragment Reveals

The latest study from Arizona State University suggests this is the skull fragment fossil of our first ancestor, which is 2 million years old! (Nature Communications)

The latest study from Arizona State University suggests this is the skull fragment fossil of our first ancestor, which is 2 million years old! ( Nature Communications )

The story of human evolution is a contested one. A basic narrative, with certain elements of truth, exists in the popular realm which is that the earliest human beings evolved from apes. That stage of evolution was not an overnight process, and took millions of years to reach its conclusion, including several evolutionary and biological mechanisms that we take for granted today. In April 2021, scientists from Arizona State University announced that our first ancestor walked around Lake Turkana, Kenya two million years ago!

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Study of Ancient Teeth Reveals Native American Origins Lie in Siberia

Portrait of Native American man. The study of Native American origins has long obsessed archaeologists and anthropologists. (Chinnachote / Adobe Stock)

Portrait of Native American man. The study of Native American origins has long obsessed archaeologists and anthropologists. ( Chinnachote / Adobe Stock)

A team of researchers launched another attempt answering questions about Native American origins, in other words when and how the Americas were first populated. By analyzing DNA samples and a database of hundreds of ancient teeth, they have concluded that  Native Americans  did not descend from the Japanese Jomon people, as has previously been hypothesized.

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Top image: The Top 10 Human Evolution Discoveries in 2021. Source: Ancient Origins

By Ancient Origins

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