Climate change may have driven human evolution

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Washington, March 25 (ANI): Scientists believe that climate change had a major impact on the development of early humans, and could have even driven their evolution.

According to a report in National Public Radio, there's a plan afoot among evolutionary scientists to launch a big new project - to look back in time and find out how climate change over millions of years affected human evolution.

Anthropologist Rick Potts, who heads the human origins department at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, has been pushing the idea that "climate made us" for years.

Lately, he's been putting together an exhibit called "What Does It Mean to Be Human?"

Among cabinets displaying dozens of skulls of human ancestors, and bronze statues of Neanderthals and other evolutionary experiments, there are displays suggesting the novel idea that climate change influenced how we evolved.

"The explanations that we've had tied human origins back to an African savannah or to a European ice age and it was never really adequate to understand the plasticity, the versatility of the human species," said Potts.

Skeletons currently on display at the National Museum of Natural History are Homo erectus, 1 million years old; Australopithecus afarensis, 2.5 million years old; Homo neanderthalensis, 32,000 to 100,000 years old, and many others.

Researchers are using ancient remains like these to learn more about the effects climate change may have had on evolution.

Potts proposes that it was flip-flopping climate that sparked some of our biggest evolutionary adaptations - the invention of better tools, for example, or a bigger brain.

To find out, the science academy developed a plan: get a fuller climate history in places where human ancestors lived - like East Africa.

And you can do that by digging into sediments at the bottom of African lakes.

"You can think of it almost like the rings of a tree," said Andrew Cohen at the University of Arizona.

He drills into lake bottoms and retrieves tubes of muck. Lake sediments are stacked in those cores like pages in a book.

They contain clues to millions of years of climate history.

According to Cohen, "Everything from the fossils of the plant pollen and the organisms that lived in the lakes that respond to climate, to the chemistry of the sediments that also can give us very detailed information about changes in temperature and precipitation."

Scientists can compare these climate timelines to the fossil record of our ancestors to see how climate change affected evolution, but they'll need more bones to do that.

Potts says images from satellites or airborne drones could pinpoint where to find them. (ANI)

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