“It’s common knowledge that boys mature later than girls, but in humans the difference is actually much less marked than in some other primates. Male gorillas continue to grow long after their wisdom teeth have come through, and they don't reach what is referred to as dominant "silverback" status until many years after the females have already started to have offspring. Our research makes us think that, in this fossil species, one older male was probably dominant in a troop of females. This situation was risky for the males and they suffered high rates of predation as a result of both their social structure and pattern of growth.”
The research used 35 fossilised specimens of Paranthropus robustus, an extinct relative of Homo sapiens which existed almost two million years ago. The fossils came from the palaeontological sites of Swartkrans, Drimolen and Kromdraii, all of which are in South Africa’s Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site near Johannesburg.
The research was inspired by earlier discoveries at Drimolen by Dr Andre Keyser, one of the co-authors of the study. Dr Colin Menter, from the University of Johannesburg and co-director of current fieldwork at Drimolen, explains: “Discoveries at this site showed us that sex differences in Paranthropus robustus were greater than we had previously thought. While there are some specimens from Drimolen that are just as large and robust as those from other sites like Swartkrans, there is a complete female skull that is distinctly smaller than the other, well-preserved specimens of the species.”
Jacopo Moggi-Cecchi, based at the University of Florence and an expert on fossil teeth, participated in the study and says: "It takes large samples of fossils to ask questions about variation and growth, and it's really a tribute to fieldworkers such as Robert Broom and Bob Brain [who worked at Swartkrans] that this research could even take place. It's also an example of why we need to continue to look for fossils after we think we know what a species is – more specimens allow us to answer more interesting questions. Even isolated teeth can give us new insights into what variation means.”
Dr Lockwood adds: “The pattern of growth also gives a better understanding of who is male and who is female in this sample of skulls and it turns out that there are far more males in the fossil sample. Because fossils from the most prolific site, Swartkrans, are thought to have been deposited by predators such as leopards and hyenas, it appears that males were getting killed more often than females.
"Basically, males had a high-risk, high-return lifestyle in this species. They most likely left their birth groups at about the time they reached maturity, and it was a long time before they were mature enough to attract females and establish a new group. Some of them were killed by predators before they got the chance."
A final point made by the researchers is that not all fossil hominin samples show the same patterns, and it is quite possible that further work will reveal clear diversity in social structure between human ancestors, in the same way that one sees differences among apes such as chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans. This research will help us to understand how human social structure evolved.
David Weston | alfa
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21.11.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau
The WHO reports an estimated 429,000 malaria deaths each year. The disease mostly affects tropical and subtropical regions and in particular the African continent. The Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC teamed up with the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME and the Institute of Tropical Medicine at the University of Tübingen for a new test method to detect malaria parasites in blood. The idea of the research project “NanoFRET” is to develop a highly sensitive and reliable rapid diagnostic test so that patient treatment can begin as early as possible.
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The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.
Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...
Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.
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Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.
During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....
The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.
Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...
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