5 Things to Know About Human Ancestors: the 2020 Update

Learning about our ancestorsOur human ancestors left behind numerous clues, such as footprints, chiseled rocks, generic materials, and much more. These ancient people weren’t much different from those of today; they traveled far and wide, reproduced themselves (clearly), and even mined for natural resources. Here are five things worth mentioning about our human ancestors:

1. Oldest Known Human DNA Belongs to a Cannibal

Skeletal remains of Homo antecessor — an archaic relative of modern humans — found in Spain
Back in 1994, scientists found the remains of six Homo antecessor individuals in Spain, but it wasn’t until the very end of 2020 when a team of researchers successfully extracted DNA from one of the individual’s teeth. Using the proteins found in the enamel to determine the segment of DNA that coded them, the team compared this DNA sequence with recent human tooth samples and determined that H. antecessor is a close relation. It was more likely that a sister species of an ancestor that led to modern humans.

2. Human Ancestors Left Stone “Breadcrumbs”

One of the distinctive stone tools, made with an ancient flint-knapping technology known as Nubian Levallois, found at the archaeological site in the Negev Desert.It is known that the Homo sapiens species left the Horn of Africa about 130,000 years ago and trekked along the Arabian Peninsula, but it wasn’t proven which path they took. Today, scientists have a better idea after finding sharp, human-crafted flint points in Israel’s Negev Desert that are just like “breadcrumbs” marking an ancient route.

3. The First Americans Arrived 30,000 Years Ago

Archaeologists explore the vast Chiquihuite cave in the Chiapas Highlands of northwest Mexico
Up until recent years, it was believed that the first Americans showed up about 13,000 years ago. However, two new studies have found that the first people to step foot in the Americas may have arrived about 30,000 years ago.

The first study focuses on an excavation of a remote cave in Mexico, revealing human-made stone tools dating to 31,500 years ago. The second study reveals early human activity in Beringia, also known as the area that connected Russia to America during the last ice age. Researchers believe that the North American human ancestors have likely arrived at least 26,000 years ago.

4. Ancient People Were Also Diverse

The original position of the skeletal remains inside the submerged cave of Muknal
Four ancient skulls were found in underwater caves in the Mexican state of Quintina Roo and analysis shows that the individuals looked nothing alike. The first skull looked like that of a human from the Arctic, another looks like early South American people, the third has European features, and the last doesn’t look like any other or known populations so far.

5. Human Ancestors & Sophisticated Mining Skills

The underwater caves in the Mexican state of Quintina Roo pictured by a modern diver.
There were a lot of human remains found at the same underwater caves mentioned above. Up until now, many were wondering what so many of our ancestors were doing there in the first place.

New evidence suggests that these ancient people were miners and most of them were looking for the red mineral ochre. There are signs of their work, including the charred remains of fires, stone tools, and stone markers. That red mineral was used for all kinds of rituals and everyday activities, including as an insect repellent or sunscreen.