Ancient Supernovae Probably Impacted Human Evolution

Jan 2016
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#1
This is interesting stuff! A series of somewhat nearby supernova explosions probably affected the evolution of proto-humans in fascinating ways between 8 million to 2.6 million years ago, such as by expanding the savanna ecosystem in Africa at the expense of the forest ecosystems and thereby encouraging a shift to bipedalism:

Did ancient supernovae prompt human ancestors to walk upright?
 
Jan 2016
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#3
That is really cool. :eek:

It makes me wonder if similar events have happened elsewhere in the universe, given so many stars and star systems. :think:
Given the laws of probability, in this vast Universe, I'd have to say it is almost a certainty.

The last few paragraphs of that link were interesting:

Melott said no such event is likely to occur again anytime soon. The nearest star capable of exploding into a supernova in the next million years is Betelgeuse, some 200 parsecs (652 light years) from Earth.

"Betelgeuse is too far away to have effects anywhere near this strong," Melott said. "So, don't worry about this. Worry about solar proton events. That's the danger for us with our technology -- a solar flare that knocks out electrical power. Just imagine months without electricity."

I'd actually like to SEE Betelgeuse go supernova! We are overdue for a visible supernova in our galaxy, the last one was more than 400 years ago:

Kepler's Supernova - Wikipedia

And, what he is talking about in that last paragraph is actually very frightening. That is known as a Carrington Event, and the last time that happened was just back in 1859. If that were to happen today, by golly, we would be HOSED!! Millions of people would DIE, and that might be a serious underestimate!

Solar storm of 1859 - Wikipedia

I am putting a Carrington Event in my science fiction novel, to take place sometime in the early 2040's. That's when things are going to get REALLY bad! [LOLOL!]
 
Nov 2007
1,998
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Prague, Czech Republic
#4
The obvious gap in the logic here is that we don't actually know if savannah has any connection to us walking upright. It seems that this is often assumed to be true based on speculation, but where is the actual evidence?

Things to consider - several species of primate have colonised Africa's savannahs. None of them show any tendencies to develop bipedalism. Maybe there was something specific about the physiology or ecology of our ancestors which was different, but this is unevidenced speculation. There's no justification for treating this as the default hypothesis.

Secondly, there's no compelling reason to assume that savannahs were a really important part of our evolution. You may protest that we have found loads of human fossils in savannah environments in East Africa. This is true, but I would word it differently. We've found loads of human fossils in environments that are conducive to fossilisation and which have been searched extensively by palaeontologists looking for human fossils. This would obviously be true regardless of where most human evolution actually happened.

Consider India. We can be pretty certain there have been people living there for a couple of million years. Where are the fossils? There are almost none. Back in Africa, where are the fossil chimps and the fossil gorillas? Again, there are almost none. The only chimpanzee fossil known comes from an east African savannah context. Should we assume, then, that chimpanzee evolution all happened on the savannahs and they only colonised rainforests recently? Nobody thinks that, and yet people make the same assumption about humans all the time.
 

StanStill

Former Staff
Dec 2013
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#5
Given the laws of probability, in this vast Universe, I'd have to say it is almost a certainty.

The last few paragraphs of that link were interesting:

Melott said no such event is likely to occur again anytime soon. The nearest star capable of exploding into a supernova in the next million years is Betelgeuse, some 200 parsecs (652 light years) from Earth.

"Betelgeuse is too far away to have effects anywhere near this strong," Melott said. "So, don't worry about this. Worry about solar proton events. That's the danger for us with our technology -- a solar flare that knocks out electrical power. Just imagine months without electricity."

I'd actually like to SEE Betelgeuse go supernova! We are overdue for a visible supernova in our galaxy, the last one was more than 400 years ago:

Kepler's Supernova - Wikipedia

And, what he is talking about in that last paragraph is actually very frightening. That is known as a Carrington Event, and the last time that happened was just back in 1859. If that were to happen today, by golly, we would be HOSED!! Millions of people would DIE, and that might be a serious underestimate!

Solar storm of 1859 - Wikipedia

I am putting a Carrington Event in my science fiction novel, to take place sometime in the early 2040's. That's when things are going to get REALLY bad! [LOLOL!]
Couple that with the impending Geomagnetic Reversal and things could get really hairy! Literally. We might need to re-evolve hair to protect our skin from all the additional radiation, if we survive long enough.
 
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Jan 2016
57,334
54,121
Colorado
#6
The obvious gap in the logic here is that we don't actually know if savannah has any connection to us walking upright. It seems that this is often assumed to be true based on speculation, but where is the actual evidence?

Things to consider - several species of primate have colonised Africa's savannahs. None of them show any tendencies to develop bipedalism. Maybe there was something specific about the physiology or ecology of our ancestors which was different, but this is unevidenced speculation. There's no justification for treating this as the default hypothesis.

Secondly, there's no compelling reason to assume that savannahs were a really important part of our evolution. You may protest that we have found loads of human fossils in savannah environments in East Africa. This is true, but I would word it differently. We've found loads of human fossils in environments that are conducive to fossilisation and which have been searched extensively by palaeontologists looking for human fossils. This would obviously be true regardless of where most human evolution actually happened.

Consider India. We can be pretty certain there have been people living there for a couple of million years. Where are the fossils? There are almost none. Back in Africa, where are the fossil chimps and the fossil gorillas? Again, there are almost none. The only chimpanzee fossil known comes from an east African savannah context. Should we assume, then, that chimpanzee evolution all happened on the savannahs and they only colonised rainforests recently? Nobody thinks that, and yet people make the same assumption about humans all the time.
Thanks for the interesting post!

(1) The only other species of primates that I know of that have colonized the African savannas are the baboons and macaques-----which are, of course, monkeys, not apes. There is a fairly large difference in intelligence between monkeys and apes, though I don't necessarily know if that is a good reason why baboons/macaques never developed bipedalism.

(2) Savanna environments are indeed more conducive to fossilization than rainforest environments, and this is surely a major reason why very few gorilla or chimpanzee fossils have ever been found (and orangutan fossils in Asia, as well).

(3) The case of India is interesting, and I think you are raising a good and interesting question as to why so few hominid fossils have been discovered there. I have wondered about this myself, but I sometimes think it is mostly just due to lack of effort in looking. I do think there needs to be a much more intensive search for early human remains (and artifacts) in the Indian sub-continent.

(4) There is reason to believe that our pre-human ancestors were already bipedal to a large extent before they ever moved on to the savanna. Ardipithecus is seen by many as the ancestral genus to Australopithecus, and it seems that Ardipithecus mostly lived in an open woodland ecosystem, and was a facultative biped, that mostly moved bipedally on the ground, and quadrupedally in the trees: Ardipithecus - Wikipedia. This would not be incongruent with the ideas laid out in the linked article of the OP.

(5) I am going to take issue with the claim that "there's no compelling reason to assume that savannahs were a really important part of our evolution." I have been looking for a recent article from Scientific American-----it was certainly within the past three years------and so far, failing to find it, alas. The article was laying out the case that human physiology is uniquely adapted for long-distance running. Our distant ancestors evidently made their living by running down and simply exhausting their prey, which mostly consisted of medium-sized herbivorous herd animals, which lived, of course, on the African savanna. This is why, the article argued, exercise is so crucial to human health, whereas it is NOT for the great apes that are our closest living relatives. Chimpanzees and gorillas can afford to be couch potatoes; we cannot, not without dire effects on our health. We were not faster than our prey, not for short distances. But we could keep going, and going, and going, like the Energizer bunny, until we caught up to our utterly exhausted prey.....and then we would have our dinner! I will continue to look for that article, and hope that I can find it, and link to it; it was very fascinating!
 
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Likes: Ian Jeffrey
Jan 2014
18,141
5,160
California
#7
This is interesting stuff! A series of somewhat nearby supernova explosions probably affected the evolution of proto-humans in fascinating ways between 8 million to 2.6 million years ago, such as by expanding the savanna ecosystem in Africa at the expense of the forest ecosystems and thereby encouraging a shift to bipedalism:

Did ancient supernovae prompt human ancestors to walk upright?
Mr. Leroy,

I've heard about that. Especially influential were the champagne supernovae. How many special people changed? How many lives were lived strange? Where were the Neanderthals when we (Cro Magnons) were getting high?
 
Jan 2016
57,334
54,121
Colorado
#8
Couple that with the impending Geomagnetic Reversal and things could get really hairy! Literally. We might need to re-evolve hair to protect our skin from all the additional radiation, if we survive long enough.
I'm not fully convinced that there's an 'impending' Geomagnetic Reversal. I mean, I've heard people say that, certainly, but I think the evidence is a bit weak.

I DO think it's interesting that the last one occurred about 41,000 years ago:

A brief complete reversal, known as the Laschamp event, occurred only 41,000 years ago[inconsistent] during the last glacial period. That reversal lasted only about 440 years with the actual change of polarity lasting around 250 years. During this change the strength of the magnetic field weakened to 5% of its present strength.[2] Brief disruptions that do not result in reversal are called geomagnetic excursions.

That is right at the transition between the Middle Paleolithic and the Upper Paleolithic, when the Cro-Magnons were first entering Europe, and encountering the Neanderthals......Hmmm.....
 
Jan 2016
57,334
54,121
Colorado
#9
Mr. Leroy,

I've heard about that. Especially influential were the champagne supernovae. How many special people changed? How many lives were lived strange? Where were the Neanderthals when we (Cro Magnons) were getting high?
LOL, see post #8, Kallie......
 

StanStill

Former Staff
Dec 2013
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Work
#10
I'm not fully convinced that there's an 'impending' Geomagnetic Reversal. I mean, I've heard people say that, certainly, but I think the evidence is a bit weak.

I DO think it's interesting that the last one occurred about 41,000 years ago:

A brief complete reversal, known as the Laschamp event, occurred only 41,000 years ago[inconsistent] during the last glacial period. That reversal lasted only about 440 years with the actual change of polarity lasting around 250 years. During this change the strength of the magnetic field weakened to 5% of its present strength.[2] Brief disruptions that do not result in reversal are called geomagnetic excursions.

That is right at the transition between the Middle Paleolithic and the Upper Paleolithic, when the Cro-Magnons were first entering Europe, and encountering the Neanderthals......Hmmm.....
Well in geological time, “impending” could be in the year 2500, and take 500 years to completely flip.
 

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