Discovered: Fashion accessory trends date back 75,000 years; how we zone out at parties; the oldest human ancestor turned 338,000 years old; the Higgs Boson — or nearly so.
Human ancestors accessorized. The human propensity to convey social status by wearing accessories may have a deeper history than previously thought, says a new study carried out by German researchers. Ancient graves discovered in South Africa turned up tiny objects resembling beads, made from what appear to be the shells of the Southern African tick. "All the shells are perforated with a single hole, and the team's microscopic studies ... have suggested that they were punctured with a finely tipped bone point." That way, the study claims, the shells could be string together and worn on the body. "The findings suggest that these beads, like jewelry today, served a fully symbolic function." They changed with the times, season-to-season, up to 75,000 years ago. [Science]
The brain knows who to ignore at parties. Whenever you're at a crowded party, your brain automatically filters out conversations you're not taking part in. The effect is so subtle that it's often unnoticeable. But how does it work, exactly? According a study published today in Neuron, brain waves corresponding to aural stimuli "are shaped so that the brain can selectively track the sound patterns from the speaker of interest and at the same time exclude competing sounds from other speakers." This affects awareness of other sources of sound, too. When talking with someone, the study suggests, you're not even aware of other people in the room. [Eureka]
The first human may be older than ever. The last common man related to the origin of our species — the last scientifically available ancestor of Adam, as we thought — has DNA that originated a lot longer ago than previously imagined. This according to a geneticist working at the University of Arizona working with the company Family Tree DNA to study a man named Albert Perry, whose remains contained an unusual (and never-before-seen) Y chromosome. "Perry did not descend from the genetic Adam," later research uncovered. "In fact, his Y chromosome was so distinct that his male lineage probably separated from all others about 338,000 years ago." The previous estimate of the first human's age, as the study notes, was "between 60,000 and 140,000 years." [New Scientist]
Higgs Boson nearly — almost — found. Did scientists actually find the Higgs Boson particle last year? The so-called god particle, which serves as the keystone of the Standard Model of physics and would help explain the nature of matter, was thought to be discovered in September 2012 when scientists discovered a hitherto unknown boson, which is a kind of elementary particle. But those scientists want to be sure, and are studying the boson's internal movement to be certain of their discovery. "If it has no internal spin, it's the Higgs boson; if it has a lot of spin it's a graviton," they said at a press conference Wednesday. Without the Higgs, one scientist told them, "there would be no atoms, there would be no chemistry, there would be no life, so that's kind of important." Fingers crossed. [Associated Press]
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.