The Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences

Huck Institutes' faculty member recognized in international interdisciplinary publications

Recent papers in Nature feature the collaborative interdisciplinary work of international scientists and Penn State professor Beth Shapiro

"Species-specific responses of Late Quaternary megafauna to climate and humans" and "The earliest evidence for anatomically modern humans in northwestern Europe" showcase novel interdisciplinary approaches to analyzing and interpreting fossil records of humans and large mammals from the last Ice Age.

Species-specific responses...

“This work was a tremendous effort involving experts from a variety of disciplines, including population genetics, paleontology, archaeology and climate science."

Documenting the collaborative work of biologists, ecologists and geneticists, anthropologists and paleontologists, and specialists in earth, atmospheric and geological sciences from 14 countries across five continents, this is the first study of its kind to draw its conclusions collectively from genetic, archaeological and climatic data.

The investigators combined ancient genetic analysis with species distribution models based on paleoclimatic data and radiocarbon-dated animal and human fossils, concluding with the inference of a complex causal interrelationship between climatic and anthropogenic factors in the extinctions of the wooly rhinoceros, wooly mammoth and wild horse.

“This work was a tremendous effort involving experts from a variety of disciplines..." Dr. Shapiro affirmed.

"Our results paint a complex picture of climate driving resource availability, competition between species for available resource, and interaction with humans leading up to extinctions of the mammoth and other iconic ice age animals within the last 10,000 years," she stated, concluding,

"We hope the results, which show that each species responded uniquely to climate warming at the end of the last ice age, can be used to predict how living species will respond to climate change today.”

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The earliest evidence...

The result of collaboration between biologists, archaeologists and anthropologists, engineers, and specialists in radiocarbon dating and anatomy from the United States, Canada and the UK, this study employs a unique Bayesian analysis of stratigraphic, chronological and archaeological data to more accurately date a fossil jawbone excavated in 1927 from Kent’s Cavern, in Torquay, UK.

After confirming the jawbone’s anatomically modern human origin through morphological and genetic analyses, the investigators then analyzed the site’s stratigraphic sequence and used the results to date the jawbone between 41,000 and 44,000 years old – making it the oldest known anatomically modern human fossil in northwestern Europe, and filling a crucial gap in the fossil record.

According to Dr. Shapiro,

“Our new dates, in combination with new dates on human teeth found in a cave in Northern Italy, show conclusively that our species coexisted with Neandertals in present-day Europe for much longer than was believed previously.”

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About Beth Shapiro

Dr. Beth Shapiro is the Shaffer Associate Professor of Biology at Penn State, and is a cofounded faculty member of the Huck Institutes’ graduate programs in bioinformatics and genomics, ecology, and genetics.