The invention of fire

The above is a useful overview of what we know about the first invention of fire by early humans and its effects on mankind’s evolution. The earliest definitive use for fire use is around a million and a half years old, but phylogenetic analysis puts the invention of fire further back to around two million years ago, this is corroborated by the anatomical characteristics of species like Homo erectus, with reduced jaws and teeth that in some cases were the size of the teeth of modern people, as well as more reduced musculature compared to the non-human great apes and a far bigger brain in relation to body size than australopithecines, our ancestors, and great apes, with cranial capacity reaching up to 1100 cm.

The earliest evidence for habitual fire use dates to around 500,000 years ago, and we have indirect evidence that we were making glue from around this time too, see the article for more details on that. There’s some evidence both Neanderthals and early modern humans practiced fire stick farming from at least 120,000 years ago, and there’s evidence of leather working from around this time, for those who don’t know leather requires fire to make, and there’s also evidence for hand drills from around 400,000 years ago as well, instead of simply using the friction from rubbing two sticks together in an hearth on top of some kindling to ignite a fire, which is presumably the first method we devised for actually making fire.

We likely had the ability to control fire before we invented methods to ignite it, this would require knowledge of slow-burning materials to maintain fires for long periods of time, animal dung does the trick.

What Denisovans looked like

Scientists recently utilized genetic evidence to reconstruct what Denisovans looked like, and the results are astonishing. For one they would’ve had wider skulls than both neanderthals and modern humans, as well as having a longer dental arch. It brings these ancient humans to life in a way that mere bones never could, and it’s humbling to think that these people were among our ancestors, because they were.

Reconstruction available here

Abiogenesis and evolution

I’ve had to deal with this particular piece of creationist claptrap so many times I’ve decided to write this refutation once and for all and be done with it. Abiogenesis is not evolution, it never was, it never will be. Evolution only deals with how living beings change over time, note that in order to qualify as “living,” one has to be alive. The theory of evolution does not concern itself with abiogenesis, that’s a completely different field of study not even belonging to biology, abiogenesis is properly chemistry, not biology.

If one happens to feel the need to make believe that a god created life on earth but allowed life to evolve after that, go ahead, evolution does not conflict with such a belief because it only deals with what happens after life has originated, not before it. One final thing, cars are irrelevant and bringing up how cars need to be intelligently designed and how they don’t evolve is a strawman, cars aren’t living beings that reproduce, metabolize, and possess a genetic code. Piss off.

Evidence for complex projectiles in Middle Paleolithic Ethiopia

Abstract: Complex projectiles—propulsion via mechanical aid—are considered an important technological innovation, with possible relevance for the successful Out-of-Africa dispersal of our species. Conclusive evidence for the beginning of this technology, however, is lacking from the early Late Pleistocene (ca. 130 to 70 thousand years ago; ka). Given the extremely limited applicability of relatively robust methods for validating stone-tipped projectile use, such as through fracture propagation velocity, converging lines of circumstantial evidence remain the best way to examine early complex projectiles. We assess here suggestions for an early Late Pleistocene origin of complex projectiles in Africa. Results from both previous and present independent approaches suggest a trajectory in which complex projectiles were likely adopted during the early Late Pleistocene in eastern Africa. At Aduma (Middle Awash, Ethiopia), morphometric, hafting, and impact damage patterns in several lithic point assemblages suggest a shift from simple spear technologies (thrusting and/or hand-cast) to complex projectiles. Broadly dated to 80–100 ka, lithic points from later phases of the Aduma succession represent a particularly strong candidate for projectile armatures most comparable to ethnographically known spearthrower darts, lending support for previous suggestions and warranting further investigations.

Notes: This is interesting, very interesting, because it pushes back the date of the invention of the atlatl back to the Middle Paleolithic, long before modern humans spread out of Africa, and also long before the earliest evidence for the atlatl in the archaeological record, which AFAIK is from Aurignacian Europe, it’s also telling because Native Americans lacked the atlatl until the advent of the Archaic period, so either the ancestors of the Native Americans lost the atlatl sometime prior to the peopling of the Americas or the atlatl wasn’t as common as previously believed. The Tasmanians also lacked the spearthrower or atlatl, despite ultimately coming from the same population that left Africa as the rest of us did, while the Australians *did* possess the spearthrower, called the *woomera* there, although it was of recent (Holocene) derivation.

New species of human discovered in the Philippines

Very interesting, and this species demonstrates many similarities to Homo floresiensis, including sharing many basal traits with australopithecines and early members of the genus Homo. One wonders how it got there given even at the time Homo luzoniensis lived Luzon was still separated from the Asian mainland by miles of ocean.

The fact that *two* species of primitive human were found in the region at the same time suggests human evolution in the region was far more complicated than previously thought, but this is in line with the discovery of stone tools in China dating back to over two million years old.

Improbable things happen

One common anti-evolution “argument” frequently used by creationists and other science deniers is what I like to call the “Probability Card.”
Typically it involves some wild-ass bullshit statistic they literally pulled out of their asses (otherwise known as the argumentum ex culo) to present a “gotcha” argument against skeptics. Of course while there are many problems with this, including several logical fallacies (such as the aforementioned argumentum ex culo, itself a variant of the equally fallacious argument from/by assertion), one way to get them to shut the hell up is by pointing out that improbable things happen, indeed this is even mathematically verified in a phenomenon known as “Littlewood’s law.”

On long enough time scales anything can happen, and there has been plenty enough time for truly wonderful things to come about by evolution, and there has been a large enough quantity of organisms over the past four billion years of life’s existence on this Earth to help evolution beat the odds of probability. People often forget that evolution happens on the scale of populations, not individuals, and population sizes often tend to range in the tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands, that’s plenty of organisms with enough mutations happening every time they reproduce to Climb Mount Improbability (obvious Dawkins reference is obvious) and become a reality.

You can also ask them how probable it was that they would be born in the first place, since it obviously happened but the exact circumstances leading up to their birth in the exact same order happening in the first place is very improbable. Don’t expect them to answer this though, they never do.

A more nuanced version of the rare earth hypothesis

The tweaked version of the rare earth hypothesis I present is this: We all know that the odds of life existing elsewhere in the universe is greater than ever before, and it is conceivable, perhaps even likely, that life can be found pretty much anywhere where there is a terrestrial body with liquid water present on it in some way (note: I`m restricting the notion of “life” to carbon and water based life like that found here on earth for obvious reasons), such as the moons of the outer solar system, perhaps even rogue planetary bodies or rogue moons as well, assuming they had oceans of liquid water present in their subsurface regions.

But I find it likely that while life may indeed be common in the universe, most of that life is going to be microbial, even on earth-like terrestrial planets orbiting stars not too different from our own. Look at it this way, for pretty much most of the history of life on earth (three and a half billion years, from the Hadean to the late Proterozoic), *all* of the biosphere was comprised of microbes, even today most of the biomass is again made up of microbes, multicellular eukaryotes make up a pithy fraction of the rest.

In the absence of necessary selective factors that are a prerequisite for multicellularity to arise in previously unicellular organisms, it can be assumed that the vast majority of life in the universe is microbial. There are about 10 or so billion earth like planets in our galaxy alone, and I’d wager that the number of those planets containing complex life on them is low, if we assume life is found everywhere where it can develop, then pretty much *all* of those planets would have life on them in some way, albeit being *microbial* life, so, using my generous assumption, there’d probably be a few hundred thousand to a few million planets with complex, multicellular life on them, that may seem like a big number but we’re dealing with 10 *billion* earth like planets out there, that’s a *pathetic* number indeed in comparison to ten *billion*.

Now how many years did it take for sapience to arise on earth (“sapience” in this context meaning “human-level intelligence,” obviously other animals are sapient as well but they probably *aren’t* human-level sapients, your pet cat or dog, while hardly idiots, don’t count, and for the sake of argument neither do dolphins or elephants)? It took roughly four billion years for the first members of the genus Homo to arise, for most of which our history we were nothing but hunter-gatherers, we’ve only been practicing agriculture for a mere ten millennia, we’ve only been recording history for about half of that, and we have only had an advanced technological civilization capable of radio astronomy for about a century now.

I think it obvious that the number of those planets with complex life on them *also* bearing sapient life at the same time we do to be *ridiculously* low, possibly even in the single digits, and most of those planets with sapient life on them odds are the sapients never left their stone age, because the development of civilization here on earth was dependent upon a number of *highly specific* circumstances that are probably, given how long we went without even developing agriculture, not that common among sapients, it was never a given *we* would develop civilization, and it is hardly a given *they* will either.

So assuming what I wrote above is true, the Fermi Paradox is hardly a paradox at all, everyone else as intelligent as we are are still stuck in the stone age and therefore have no hopes of becoming a spacefaring civilization, we’re the lucky ones, and I hope we live long enough to make us of our lucky status before climate change does us in.