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John Hawks

I'm a paleoanthropologist exploring the world of ancient humans and our fossil relatives.

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When did our ancestors start looking up to the stars?

Changes in the sky have been important to peoples throughout the world. That connection may go back much further than our species.

A sculpture of a caveman looking up toward a starry Milky Way
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Solving the mystery of the Red Deer Cave people

New DNA evidence is revealing the genetic relationships of ancient groups from southern China, showing how they were connected to living people across the region.

Two reconstructed partial skulls side by side representing the Red Deer Cave people
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Why it is so hard for humanity to beat pathogens

In the first part of a review of pathogens in human origins, I examine a sampling of infectious diseases in people today and their diverse origins.

A colorful image of a virus preparing to enter a cell.
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Can ancient amputations tell us about the care systems of our ancestors?

A 33,000-year-old case of an amputated leg prompts comparisons to earlier Neandertal instances of amputation.

Skull of the Shanidar 1 individual with portions of the upper body skeleton visible, on a blue velvet table
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The top 10 discoveries about ancient people from DNA in 2022

Research on ancient genomes has moved way beyond population mixture into broader questions about how ancient people lived and interacted with their environments.

A researcher wearing protective mask, hair net, and gloves is reaching toward an archaeological profile with a test tube.
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The Nesher Ramla site: a third way between Neandertals and modern humans?

Fragments representing people who lived just before Skhūl and Qafzeh seem outside the expectations for these “early modern humans” or for Neandertals.

Archaeologists working on a large, terraced excavation area under a white canopy.
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Finding ancient fire use in the Rising Star cave system

The study of the underground landscape enters a new phase with evidence of charcoal and burned animal bone in deep chambers.

A piece of charcoal upon a brown surface with tiny rodent bones visible
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A Neandertal recipe that tasted like the foods of later people

Looking at a fascinating new study that finds mixtures of different plants within ancient morsels of charred foods.

A micrograph with a grass leaf cell structure visible surrounded by chunky blobs of stuff
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Bison bones from Gran Dolina show butchery practices 400,000 years ago

Ancient people left a bone bed of bison killed in two seasons and butchered at the site with expedient tools.

Panoramic image of excavation at Gran Dolina with archaeologists at work.
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Research highlight: The frontal sinuses of fossil hominins

A look inside the skulls of hominins reveals the extensive variation in the form of the internal structures known as the frontal sinuses.

Crania of Petralona and LES1 showing the extent of their frontal sinuses