Monday, February 27, 2006

BIG WOMAN FROM 260,000 YEARS AGO!

Some years ago, at a site called Jinniushan, near the town of Yinkou in northeastern China, researchers found the fossilized remains of a woman who lived some 260,000 years ago. Although the climate may have been milder, she still lived near the edge of human existence in a time before fire. In fact, the lady from Jinniushan is the biggest woman yet found from the Pleistocene, weighing an estimated 163 pounds and standing some five feet five and 1/2 inches tall. In fact, at first they thought she was male but the shape of her pelvis suggests differently. The woman belonged to the Homo genus but her species is uncertain.

Now a fresh analysis of the specimen has been made by a team that included Anthropologist Karen Rosenberg from the University of Delaware, Chris B. Ruff of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore and Lu Zune of Peking University in Beijing. They say that this is the first time that we have a body size and a brain size estimate from one individual... other estimates were made from bones that came from different specimens; that is, body size based on a tiny samples from a bunch of long bones and brain size from a bunch of skulls.

But the Jinniushan specimen bears out that brain size was increasingly relative to body size during the Pleistocene. Her brain was large for her body size, even though she was larger-bodied than more primitive peoples.

Her size and apparent strength may have been an adaptation to a cold climate. Much like elk or bears, these cold-adapted humans grew larger but with shorter limbs from those of their tropical peers in order to conserve heat more efficiently.

The research appears online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences at http://www.sciam.com

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