The year's big paleoanthropology stories

Last year, I complained that paleoanthropology had been exceptionally boring. One piece of evidence was the year-end retrospective in Discover about the top 100 science stories, of which only three were paleoanthropology-related.

Now, I would never have claimed that this year has been boring for paleoanthropology. But reading through the current Discover, there actually weren’t all that many big stories. Sure, enough to make it an interesting year, especially considering the October onslaught. But except for Ardi, it was a year of empirical news and little fundamental movement in our knowledge about human evolution.

Here’s a list of the paleoanthro stories in this year’s top 100:

  1. Ardipithecus. This of course raises the question about which science stories were bigger – number 1 was vaccines, number 2 the Augustine report on NASA’s future. Ardi also made a second appearance as part of number 43, the Darwin-centric entry.

  2. Neandertal DNA. This was more media event than story in 2009, but worth including in any year.

  3. Hohle Fels flutes.

  4. We get a target-rich environment starting here: Chimpanzees plan ahead – this is the meat-for-sex story.

  5. “Human gene changes mouse talk” – transgenic FOXP2 mice.

  6. “Early humans tended the disabled” – the Atapuerca craniosynostosis case.

There are a few more that touch on issues discussed here on the blog, but except for the Paleoindian drive lines discovered under Lake Huron (number 95), they don’t really hit paleoanthropology.

However, one paleoanthropologist does make another appearance: I was unaware until I read item number 93 that Dean Falk was working on Einstein’s brain.

UPDATE (2009-12-11): Several readers wrote to request the reference to Falk’s Einstein brain work. A copy is free online from PubMed.