Have you ever wondered how much our understanding of the origins of human civilization and the evolution of our planet has advanced thanks to the technological advances of recent decades? The leap was absurd, and with the emergence of new techniques and the development of more refined and modern equipment, so many mysteries about the past have never been unraveled.
In a fascinating article published on the site The Conversation, the pair formed by Elizabeth Sawchuk – a postdoctoral student and assistant professor and researcher for anthropology at New York State University – and Mary Prendergast (professor of anthropology at Saint Louis University in Madrid) lists a number of examples of how technology It has been helping researchers from various fields to fill in the gaps in the history of human civilization and the planet itself, especially from a few years on.
Australopithecus africanus (Source: Wikimedia Commons / José Braga / Didier Descouens)
To get an idea of how fast new discoveries are being made, Elizabeth and Mary invite us to think about how much our knowledge of our own origin has progressed since the first hominid fossil, the skull of the “Taung Child”. ”, Was found in South Africa in 1924. Not only the small artifact – consisting of the head bones of a 3-year-old child classified as Australopithecus africanus – changed forever the understanding of human evolution, as has changed the direction of research in this area.
Since then, as many hominid species have been identified – among them Australopithecus deryiremeda and Australopithecus sediba – and, thanks to advances in DNA sampling and gene sequencing techniques, the idea that modern humans have evolved About 200,000 years ago in Africa had to be rethought, as the evidence examined in recent years shows that the species apparently emerged at least 100,000 years before that.
Australopithecus sediba (Source: Wikimedia Commons / Brett Eloff)
In addition, the development of new technologies that allow genetic analysis of materials that are millions of years old allowed scientists to identify ancient hominids that lived between 7 and 5 million years ago – possibly around the time in DNA testing suggest that our earliest ancestor the ancient one took a distinct evolutionary line from that of the great apes. In addition, with advances, researchers can now revisit and reevaluate fossils stored in museums and universities and resume studies that past technology has forced to retire.
This is the case of the 4.4 million-year-old fossil known as “Ardi” – which was discovered in Ethiopia in the early 1990s, but only because of its proven age and authenticity and properly classified species in 2009 when it received the Scientific name of Ardipithecus ramidus. This individual, by the way, allowed researchers to discover a number of things about how and when hominids began to walk upright on both legs.
Ardi, right (Source: Wikimedia Commons / Emoke Dénes)
Technological progress in recent decades has also brought to light evidence that, contrary to popular belief, our species may not have originated in one place – but rather evolved in different parts of the African continent around the same time. Advances also revealed that Homo sapiens occupied the planet concurrently with other species such as Homo floresiensis, Neanderthals and Denisovans. What's more, it is now known, for example, that modern humans and Neanderthals have related in the past, so much so that a large portion of the population, especially those of European origin, carry genes of this extinct species in their DNA. The Denisovans, by the way, also shared the "bed" with our ancestors. And with the Neanderthals! Yes, a group of species …
(Source: Quora / Reproduction)
What's cool is that, in addition to the technology that has progressed to allow genetic samples to be collected from bone fragments of thousands – and even millions – of years, it is now even possible to obtain DNA and elements such as proteins, lipids, minerals. , molecules, etc., of tooth residues, chewing gum, fibers, utensils, tools and many other sources.
These elements, in turn, can reveal not only genetic aspects, but details about the diet, habits and health of our ancestors, as well as providing opportunities for scientists to reconstruct the environment in which the individuals studied lived, as they were. their routines, what kinds of difficulties they faced, and what diseases they suffered.
From micro to macro
But technological progress has not only reached the labs, no! Nowadays, scientists are increasingly making archaeological discoveries through satellite imagery, drone observations, and surveys conducted through remote sensing by laser and other equipment. This is how “lost cities” and “swallowed up” nature buildings were rediscovered in Central American forests, remote regions of the East and Asia, and desert areas of Africa.
Ancient Mayan City Discovered in Guatemala (Source: National Geographic / Reproduction)
And these tools have helped researchers make discoveries without having to excavate or impact the environment, as well as make it easier to monitor and protect archaeological sites and enable potentially dangerous sites or areas of conflict to be studied, even remotely. Even structures beneath the surface can be studied thanks to the development of new equipment and sensors – and even AI and big data concepts have been scaled up to help explorers analyze the information they collect.
And did you notice that the designations "archaeologist" and "paleontologist" were little used in the text? This is because teams and expeditions are becoming increasingly diverse and multidisciplinary – and it is increasingly common for local community members and amateur scientists to be invited to contribute to researchers and actively participate in the processes of discovering, recreating and rewriting history. . Our history.
(Source: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution / Reproduction)
Besides, do you know that talk that we must look to the past to understand the present and predict what the future will be like? This concept has never been more true than now, as the archaeological discoveries of recent decades are not only enriching our knowledge in the historical and evolutionary realm. The data collected are, for example, increasingly providing empirical support for climate change occurring on the planet, and revealing alternatives used by our ancestors to adapt and survive under new conditions that may serve not only as an example today. , as of lesson.
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