Collecting Clues

Introduction

Clues aren’t just for detectives. Scientists look for clues too, in much the same way as detectives do, by visiting a scene and gathering evidence.


Clues in the form of fossil evidence play an important role in solving the mystery of how we became human. Our own species, Homo sapiens, has been around for 200,000 years, but humanlike species have existed for roughly 7 million years. Fossil evidence helps chart the road from early hominids to modern humans.


Subtle details in this Neanderthal skull, for example, can reveal much about when, where, and how these ancient relatives of ours lived. In fact, this skull gives us clues to the mystery of why the Neanderthals went extinct. (Climate change and a taste for steaks may be to blame…sound familiar?)


The trouble with fossil evidence is that fossils themselves are so rare. Under ordinary circumstances, bones waste away completely within about a hundred years. When bones lucky enough to become fossils are discovered, they sometimes raise more questions than they answer.