To shed light on our origins we need all kinds of “lights”: X-rays to read bones, skulls and teeth; laser-based dating techniques to synchronize archaeology, climate change and genetic clocks; and radar and other electromagnetic waves to find more fossil and archaeological evidence from the past.
At the end of The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin wrote: “Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history”. This is the only reference to our origins in the 502 pages of the 1859 edition of his book. The father of biological evolution was convinced that the world was not ready to receive the news of our kinship with apes and other animals. More than 30 years later, the German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen produced a new electromagnetic radiation in a wavelength range known as x-rays, an achievement that earned him the first Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901. Immediately some scientists realized that this new “light” could be used to fulfill Darwin’s prophecy.
Juvenile Neanderthal mandible from Molare (Italy), with the lower-left second deciduous molar virtually extracted and dissected using X ray microtomography. The transparency of enamel shows the dentine and the pulp chamber. Credits:…
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