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Science Ticker

Ancient people arrived in Sumatra’s rainforests more than 60,000 years ago

human teeth from Sumatran cave

JUNGLE TEETH  Human teeth found in a Sumatran cave (one shown, top left; scan of its inner structure, bottom left), an orangutan tooth (right) and remains of other rainforest animals from the same cave indicate that people inhabited this challenging environment as early as 73,000 years ago.

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Humans inhabited rainforests on the Indonesian island of Sumatra between 73,000 and 63,000 years ago — shortly before a massive eruption of the island’s Mount Toba volcano covered South Asia in ash, researchers say.

Two teeth previously unearthed in Sumatra’s Lida Ajer cave and assigned to the human genus, Homo, display features typical of Homo sapiens, report geoscientist Kira Westaway of Macquarie University in Sydney and her colleagues. By dating Lida Ajer sediment and formations, the scientists came up with age estimates for the human teeth and associated fossils of various rainforest animals excavated in the late 1800s, including orangutans.

Ancient DNA studies had already suggested that humans from Africa reached Southeast Asian islands before 60,000 years ago.

Humans migrating out of Africa 100,000 years ago or more may have followed coastlines to Southeast Asia and eaten plentiful seafood along the way (SN: 5/19/12, p. 14). But the Sumatran evidence shows that some of the earliest people to depart from Africa figured out how to survive in rainforests, where detailed planning and appropriate tools are needed to gather seasonal plants and hunt scarce, fat-rich prey animals, Westaway and colleagues report online August 9 in Nature.


Virgo detector joins LIGO in the search for gravitational waves

By Emily Conover 3:15pm, August 1, 2017
The Virgo detector near Pisa, Italy, has begun searching for subtle ripples in the fabric of spacetime.
Health,, Biomedicine

One in three U.S. adults takes opioids, and many misuse them

By Kate Travis 10:33am, August 1, 2017
More than a third of U.S. adults used prescription opioids in 2015, and nearly 13 percent of that group misused the painkillers in some way.
Materials,, Biomedicine,, Animals

Slug slime inspires a new type of surgical glue

By Laurel Hamers 2:00pm, July 27, 2017
A new glue that mimics a slug’s mucus secretions sticks well, even when wet. The adhesive could be used in place of sutures or staples in surgeries.

Elephant seals recognize rivals by the tempo of their calls

By Laurel Hamers 12:00pm, July 20, 2017
The distinct sputtering-lawnmower sound of a male elephant seal’s call has a tempo that broadcasts his identity to competitors.
Planetary Science,, Astronomy

New Horizons’ next target caught making a star blink

By Lisa Grossman 7:00am, July 20, 2017
The team behind the spacecraft that visited Pluto has seen its next quarry blocking the light from a distant star.
Robotics,, Plants

This robot grows like a plant

By Helen Thompson 5:26pm, July 19, 2017
A new soft robot navigates its environment by growing in a manner inspired by plants.
Climate,, Science & Society

Rising temps may mean fewer passengers on airplane flights

By Maria Temming 5:30am, July 13, 2017
Global warming could force airplanes to carry a lighter load — and fewer passengers —on each flight.
Genetics,, Technology

CRISPR adds storing movies to its feats of molecular biology

By Helen Thompson 7:09pm, July 12, 2017
Video and images could be stored in living bacteria with a little help from the iconic gene editor, CRISPR.
Planetary Science

Here are Juno’s first close-ups of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot

By Lisa Grossman 1:22pm, July 12, 2017
The Juno spacecraft swooped just 9,000 kilometers above Jupiter’s Great Red Spot on July 10. Here are the first pictures.

Teeny-weeny star vies for title of smallest known

By Emily Conover 7:00am, July 12, 2017
A Saturn-sized star is one of the smallest yet discovered.
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