Artificial Intelligence Finds Missing Ghost Ancestor of Humans
Our ancestry as a species is intricate and convoluted. We know that Denisovans, Neanderthals, and the other iterations of our hominin ancestors interbred and evolved over hundreds of thousands of years. But while anthropologists have done their best to map out this complicated lineage, we’ve now reached a point in our evolution that machines can map our genealogy better than we can. Such was the case when a machine learning algorithm applied to our DNA roadmap found a new ancestor we didn’t even know existed.
According to a study published in Nature Communications, scientists fed DNA data from fossilized bones and modern humans into an A.I. algorithm that computed thousands of timelines to map out the possible evolutionary pathways based on what we know – or what we think we know – about our ancestors migrations, diasporas, and interbreeding to tell us if we were missing anything.
It turns out we were…
The new study found that a missing, archaic “ghost” ancestor played a significant role in the development of the human species, helping to propel us from primitive hominins to the highly intelligent beings we are today.
This ancestor was likely a hybrid of Neanderthals and the Denisovans – the hominin ancestor discovered in 2010, that five percent of modern humans can still directly trace their genealogy through.
And though the study’s authors are referring to this hominin hybrid as a “ghost” population, they also believe there might be fossil evidence of it found in the bones of a 90,000-year-old specimen of a teenage girl discovered in Siberia’s Denisova cave – the location where the original Denisovan fossils were found.
The discovery of the Denisovans has presented itself as one of the most profound and baffling finds for archeologists within the past decade as their fossil remains showed they existed for millennia alongside our other ancestors. Not to mention they appear to have been massive in comparison to other hominin species.
And by massive, they mean that a Denisovan wisdom tooth found in the cave was originally mistaken for that of a bear’s. And though wisdom teeth can vary in size, the anthropologist studying the specimen, Bence Viola, told National Geographic, “large teeth with massive roots would probably require massive jaws.”
Who were these gigantic Denisovans whom we know so little about, and even more baffling, what did their hybrid progeny with Neanderthal’s look like? These paradigm-shifting discoveries only add to the fact that we still have so much more to learn about our species’ history.
For more on the strange discovery of the gigantic Denisovans check out this episode of Ancient Civilizations :
Earth's Magnetic Field is Shifting and Geologists Don't Know Why
Something strange is happening with the Earth’s magnetic field and scientists are unsure why, according to a recent paper published in the journal Nature. A consortium of geologists in charge of the World Magnetic Model is having trouble keeping track of the planet’s magnetic north pole as it rapidly shifts from Canada to Northern Siberia.
Scientists updated Earth’s magnetic model in 2015, which is used for some pretty important things, including shipping navigation and GPS on smartphones. Their model was intended to last for at least five years, but due to the recent unexpected swing, it became outdated at some point in early 2018 and is now in need of adjustment.
“The error is increasing all the time,” said Arnaud Chulliat, a geomagnetist at the University of Colorado Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information.
Scientists say this shift is being driven by liquid iron sloshing around in the planet’s core, a natural process, but one that can vary as the flow changes. Over the past 20 million years, Earth’s magnetic field has consistently experienced a complete pole reversal – usually every 200-300,000 years.
At the moment, we’re long overdue for one of these events, with the last reversal having occurred 781,000 years ago. No one is quite sure what the consequences will be on modern infrastructure when and if that reversal happens. Many take ease in the fact that pole reversals have occurred hundreds of times in the planet’s history without catastrophe, but again, the effect on modern technology remains unknown.
Some scientists have pointed to this shift as a potential culprit in a slew of recent dolphin and whale beachings as well as other unexpected animal die-offs. It’s believed the planet’s natural magnetic field is necessary to some of these animals’ navigation when traveling and communicating over great distances underwater. One NASA scientist is currently looking into this potential connection.
In 2016, a larger-than-usual magnetic pulse shot up from South America, which scientists believe played a role in furthering the recent shift. However, they’re still unsure whether it will continue on this course, or even what will happen at all.
Could we be on the precipice of a massive geomagnetic reversal, or is this just due to slightly-more-anomalous-than-usual activity in the Earth’s core? And what’s even more pressing – what kind of effects is this having on us?
For more on our brain’s relationship with Earth’s magnetic field, check out this Gaia Original short: