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When three species of human ancestor walked the Earth

When three species of human ancestor walked the Earth

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Credit: Angeline Leece.

An international team, including Arizona State University researcher Gary Schwartz, have unearthed the earliest known skull of Homo erectus, the first of our ancestors to be nearly human-like in their anatomy and aspects of their behavior.

Years of painstaking excavation at the fossil-rich site of Drimolen, nestled within the Cradle of Humankind (a UNESCO World Heritage site located just 40 kilometers or around 25 miles northwest of Johannesburg in South Africa), has resulted in the recovery of several new and important fossils. The skull, attributed to Homo erectus, is securely dated to be two million years old.

Published this week in Science, the international team of nearly 30 scientists from five countries shared details of this skull — the most ancient fossil Homo erectus known — and other fossils from this site and discuss how these new finds are forcing us to rewrite a part of our species’ evolutionary history.

The high-resolution dating of Drimolen’s fossil deposits demonstrates the age of the new skull to pre-date Homo erectus specimens from other sites within and outside of Africa by at least 100,000 to 200,000 years and thus confirms an African origin for the species.

The skull, reconstructed from more than 150 separate fragments, is of an individual likely aged between three and six years old, giving scientists a rare glimpse into childhood growth and development in these early human ancestors.

Additional fossils recovered from Drimolen belong to a different species — in fact, a different genus of ancient human altogether — the more heavily built, robust human ancestor Paranthropus robustus, known to also occur at several nearby cave sites preserving fossils of the same geological age. A third, distinctive species, Australopithecus sediba, is known from two-million-year old deposits of an ancient cave site virtually down the road from Drimolen.

“Unlike the situation today, where we are the only human species, two million years ago our direct ancestor was not alone,” said project director and lead researcher from La Trobe University in Australia, Andy Herries.

Gary Schwartz, a paleoanthropologist and research associate with ASU’s Institute of Human Origins, participated in the excavations and recovery of the new cranium, and as an expert in the evolution of growth and development, is continuing his work with the research team to analyze the many infant and juvenile specimens found at the site.

“What is really exciting is the discovery that during this same narrow time slice, at just around two million years ago, there were three very different types of ancient human ancestors roaming the same small landscape,” said Schwartz.

“We don’t yet know whether they interacted directly, but their presence raises the possibility that these ancient fossil humans evolved strategies to divvy up the landscape and its resources in some way to enable them to live in such close proximity.” Schwartz is also an Associate Professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change.

The ability to date Drimolen’s ancient cave deposits with such a high degree of precision, using a range of different dating techniques, allowed the team to address important broader questions about human evolution in this region of Africa.

Paper coauthor Justin Adams from Monash University (Australia) is a specialist in reconstructing paleohabitats based on the animals preserved at fossil sites, said the discovery now allows us to address what role changing habitats, resources, and the unique biological adaptations of early Homo erectus may have played in the eventual extinction of Australopithecus sediba in South Africa.

“The discovery of the earliest Homo erectus marks a milestone for South African fossil heritage,” says project codirector and University of Johannesburg doctoral student Stephanie Baker.

Fieldwork will continue at Drimolen, expanding the excavations to include even more ancient components of the cave and to provide a more in-depth glimpse at the forces shaping human evolution in this part of the African continent.

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The bulk of this research was funded by Australian Research Council Future Fellowship Grant FT120100399 and ARC Discovery Grant DP170100056. The U-Pb analysis was funded by ARC DECRA DE120102504. The US-ESR dating was supported by ARC DP140100919. Work at the site by the Italian Archaeological Mission was supported by a series of grants by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs thanks the National Research Foundation (African Origins Platform) for grants that supported the excavation and research at Drimolen. This work was also supported by a La Trobe University Postgraduate Research Scholarship and La Trobe University Internal Research grant and a Society of Antiquaries London research grant. Components of the palaeomagnetic work were conducted during a Visiting Research Fellowship at the Institute for Rock Magnetism, University of Minnesota, supported through the National Science Foundation, USA.

Media Contact
Gary Schwartz
gary.schwartz@asu.edu

Related Journal Article

http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aaw7293

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Government

Obamacare ‘Time Bomb’ To Hit Right Before Midterms

Obamacare ‘Time Bomb’ To Hit Right Before Midterms

Congressional Democrats have yet another thing to worry about going into this year’s midterm…

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Obamacare 'Time Bomb' To Hit Right Before Midterms

Congressional Democrats have yet another thing to worry about going into this year's midterm elections.

A temporary pandemic relief program aimed at lowering healthcare premiums under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, is set to expire unless Democrats can revive a reconciliation bill that extends the financial assistance past the end of the year. And that means striking a deal with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV).

If they can't, roughly 13 million Americans will be hit with steep price hikes amid crippling inflation, in what Insider describes as a "time-bomb."

"There's no denying that if they are not extended, then there could definitely be a political impact," said healthcare policy analyst Charles Gaba.

Voters are set to receive notices about premium increases in late October, as they head to the ballot box for the November midterms. Others would find out during the ACA open enrollment period, which begins on November 1.

"If Congress lets the ACA premium help in the American Rescue Plan expire at the end of this year, middle-class people buying their own insurance would be hit hardest," tweeted Larry Levitt, vice president for health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Levitt noted that "a middle-class couple of 50 year-olds making $75,000 would see their premium go up by $8,304 on average," adding "And, if the insurer hikes the unsubsidized premium by 10% for inflation, that’s another $1,468."

Gaba, the healthcare analyst, calculated potential premium hikes using different scenarios based on age, income, marital status and family size, and created two maps to illustrate how letting the ACA assistance lap would affect Americans by state:

In this scenario, a couple nearing retirement age in West Virginia would see their monthly premium soar $2,704 if  enhanced Obamacare subsidies expire, the sharpest increase in the US. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia has been open to reviving pieces of Biden's agenda without committing to any specific plans and Democrats can't revive a bill without his support. He has been publicly noncommittal on renewing the program in a smaller package. -Insider

Americans who make just enough to lose access to government help would feel the brunt of the increases. "If you're in that situation, you'd see all financial aid removed and your net cost would increase pretty dramatically," said Gaba.

Those who make under 150% of the federal poverty level - $19,320 for singles and $39,750 for a family of four - would also end up paying more if the ACA assistance lapses.

As Insider notes, 20 Senate Democrats urged President Biden to include an extension of Obamacare subsidies a priority in his Build Back Better plan.

In other words - extending the assistance is a no-brainer for Democrats. The only question is whether Manchin will be on board. According to Politico, "Staffers for Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have spent the last couple weeks exchanging preliminary ideas for what the framework of a bill might look like," adding that "the discussions have boosted hopes that an agreement remains in reach, though there is little expectation of a breakthrough before Memorial Day."

Tyler Durden Wed, 05/25/2022 - 20:40

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Government

China Will Struggle To Reach Positive GDP This Quarter Premier Says, Warning Economy “To Some Degree” Worse Than 2020

China Will Struggle To Reach Positive GDP This Quarter Premier Says, Warning Economy "To Some Degree" Worse Than 2020

Over the weekend, we…

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China Will Struggle To Reach Positive GDP This Quarter Premier Says, Warning Economy "To Some Degree" Worse Than 2020

Over the weekend, we quoted Goldman's head of hedge fund sales Tony Pasquariello who had some very choice words for China, saying its economy was so bad, "it’s simply eye-popping (witness the worst IP print on record)", and prompted Goldman's sellside research desk to cut its expectation for 2022 Chinese GDP growth to just 4%, which ex-2020 would be the slowest growth rate since 1990! For the sake of balance, Pasquariello noted that Shanghai was set to reopen on June 1st which could be a potential upside catalyst at a time when foreign investors have largely written away Chinese equities.

Fast forward to today when we find that Pasquariello's hedging was not necessary, because on Wednesday, China's Premier Li Keqiang held a teleconference this afternoon under the topic of "stabilizing economic growth" with provincial, city-level and county-level local government officials across the country in which he had some very dismal comments about the current state of China's economy.

As Goldman notes, "while there are not many new measures being announced from this conference, the nature and scale of this conference is quite unusual. Chinese policymakers are in greater urgency to support the economy after the very weak activity growth in April, anemic recovery month-to-date in May, and continued increases in unemployment rates."

Specifically, premier Li said China’s economy is worse off to a “certain extent” than 2020 when the pandemic first emerged, urging efforts to reduce the unemployment rate which as we noted recently has soared to the highest level since the covid crash.

“Economic indicators in China have fallen significantly, and difficulties in some aspects and to a certain extent are greater than when the epidemic hit us severely in 2020,” Li said Wednesday following a meeting with local authorities, state-owned companies and financial firms to discuss how to stabilize the economy, Bloomberg reported.

China’s premier also said the world’s second-largest economy would struggle to record positive growth in the current quarter, urging officials to help companies resume production after Covid-19 lockdowns, according to the FT.

“We will try to make sure the economy grows in the second quarter,” Li said, according to a transcript that the Financial Times verified with three people briefed on the premier’s remarks. “This is not a high target and a far cry from our 5.5 per cent goal. But we have to do so.”

The last time China’s growth entered negative territory was when output plunged 6.9 per cent year on year in the first quarter of 2020 after the coronavirus pandemic ended an era of uninterrupted growth dating back more than 30 years.

The comments by Li Keqiang, to tens of thousands of officials on an internal videocast on Wednesday, underscore the difficulties President Xi Jinping’s administration will have in reaching its annual growth target of 5.5% while also battling Omicron outbreaks.

Concerned that the unemployment rate is approaching levels where the dreaded "social unrest" becomes a possibility, the premier urged officials to make sure the unemployment rate falls and the economy “operates in a reasonable range” in the second quarter of this year, state media cited him as saying. Earlier in May, Li warned of a “complicated and grave” employment situation after the nation’s surveyed jobless rate climbed to 6.1% in April, the highest since February 2020, and sent the yuan plunging to the lowest level since late 2020.

Today's meeting was the latest in a series of urgent calls by Li (who is quitting his job next March) to shore up the economy, which has come under enormous pressure from Covid outbreaks and lockdowns in recent months, threatening the government's growth target of about 5.5%. President Xi's stubborn commitment to Covid Zero means China is guaranteed to miss that goal this year: Economists now forecast gross domestic product growth will hit just 4.5%, according to a new Bloomberg survey, with Goldman predicting GDP will rise just 4.0% as noted above.

In hopes of offsetting some of the gloom and doom unleashed by Beijing's flawed covid policies, Li indicated that China will try to reduce the impact of its strict Zero-Covid policy on the economy. “At the same time as controlling the epidemic, we must complete the task of economic development,” he said.

Li also stressed implementation of current support policies, and said more detailed implementation measures would be issued by the end of this month. Somewhat bizarrely, he said that economic data for the second quarter would be released “accurately”, hinting that prior Chinese data was - gasp - inaccurate? Perish the thought.

As Bloomberg reported earlier this week, China's State Council outlined 33 support measures on Monday to help businesses struggling to cope with the lockdowns, including extra tax rebates, relief on social insurance payments and loans, and additional funding for aviation and rail construction. Local governments were told to spend most of the proceeds from special bonds -- used mainly for infrastructure -- by the end of August. Judging by the lack of market reaction, investors saw right through this latest mostly verbal attempt to prop up confidence in the country ahead of the 20th Party Congress later this year, where Xi's fate will be determine (amid some rumors that his political career may be cut short if China's economy does not stabilize).

The central bank and banking regulator also held a meeting with major financial institutions on Monday to urge them to boost loans.
Li met with local authorities in April, when Shanghai was in the middle of a lockdown, telling them to “add a sense of urgency” as they rolled out policy. During a trip to Yunnan province last week, he said they should “act decisively” to support growth. Of course, when banks artificially inject loans into an economy where there is no loan demand, what you end up getting is just another bubble.

Tyler Durden Wed, 05/25/2022 - 11:25

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Spread & Containment

Euro rally hits a wall

Euro falls sharply The euro has reversed directions on Wednesday and is sharply lower. In the European session, EUR/USD is trading at 1.0663, down 0.67%…

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Euro falls sharply

The euro has reversed directions on Wednesday and is sharply lower. In the European session, EUR/USD is trading at 1.0663, down 0.67% on the day. The euro was up 1.29% on Monday and extended its gains on Tuesday, hitting a 4-week high, after ECB President Lagarde announced that the ECB would raise interest rates in July.

On the data front, there weren’t any surprises out of Germany. GDP in Q1 rose by 0.2% QoQ, as expected. Compared to Q4 of 2019, the quarter prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, growth was 0.9% smaller, which means that the economy is yet to fully recover from the Covid crisis. The war in Ukraine and Covid-19 have resulted in supply chain disruptions and accelerating inflation, which has hampered economic growth.

German confidence remains in deep-freeze

German GfK Consumer Sentiment came in at -26.0 in May, a slight improvement from the April reading of -26.6, which marked a record low. Not surprisingly, consumers put the blame for their deep pessimism on two key factors – the conflict in Ukraine and spiralling inflation. The GfK survey also found that consumer spending has weakened, as high costs for food and energy have reduced spending on non-essential items.

The ECB Financial Stability Review, published twice a year, echoed what German consumers are saying. The report bluntly stated that financial stability conditions have deteriorated in the eurozone, as the post-Covid recovery has been tested by higher inflation and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The report noted that the economic outlook for the eurozone had weakened, with inflation and supply disruptions representing significant headwinds for the eurozone economy.

Given this challenging economic landscape, the euro will be hard-pressed to keep pace with the US dollar.

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EUR/USD Technical

  • There is resistance at 1.0736 and 1.0865
  • EUR/USD is testing support at 1.0648. The next support line is at 1.0519

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