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The drill site at the Koora Basin in Kenya. Photo: Human Origins Program, Smithsonian

Environmental and climatic change in Africa hundreds of thousands of years ago drove human beings to adopt more sophisticated tools and broaden their trade networks, according to a new study.

Why it matters: Human beings possess no more important trait than our adaptability, which has enabled us to thrive in nearly every corner of the globe. With environmental and other changes coming at us swiftly, we'll need that adaptability even more in the future.

What's happening: In a study published Wednesday in Science Advances, researchers analyzed the results of a sedimentary drill core that represented 1 million years of environmental history in the East African Rift Valley.

  • Previous archaeological research found early humans in the area had used the same rudimentary stone axes for hundreds of thousands of years.
  • The drill core results showed the region began experiencing serious environmental and tectonic change about 400,000 years ago.
  • Beginning around 320,000 years ago — and likely prompted at least in part by those changes — humans in the region upgraded to more sophisticated tools and weapons and began employing early symbolic communication.

What they're saying: "We conclude that the roots of Homo sapiens‘ evolutionary adaptations stem from our ability to adjust to environmental change," writes lead author Richard Potts, director of the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian Institution, in The Conversation.

What's next: Climate change, and lots of it, which will put our adaptiveness to the ultimate test.

"As humanity now confronts an era of environmental uncertainty on a global scale, is our species sufficiently nimble to engage social networks, new technologies, and reliable sources of information to adjust to the environmental disruptions ahead?"
— Richard Potts

Go deeper

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Oct 31, 2020 - Science

Climate scientists are frequent flyers

A passenger jet lands at Berlin Tegel Airport. Photo: Bernd von Jutrczenka/picture alliance via Getty Images

A study published this month found climate scientists fly more often than researchers in other fields, though they're also less likely to fly long distances for leisure.

Why it matters: Flying is in general the most carbon-intensive way to travel per mile, and the fact that even climate scientists have a difficult time cutting back on their air miles underscores the dilemma that can exist between fighting climate change and adding to it.

Trump's 2024 begins

Trump speaking to reporters in the White House on Thanksgiving. Photo: Erin Schaff - Pool/Getty Images

President Trump is likely to announce he'll run again in 2024, perhaps before this term even ends, sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: Trump has already set in motion two important strategies to stay relevant and freeze out other Republican rivals. 

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
56 mins ago - Health

Nursing homes are still getting pummeled by the pandemic

Data: AHCA/NCAL, The COVID Tracking Project; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

The U.S. has gotten no better at keeping the coronavirus out of nursing homes.

Why it matters: The number of nursing home cases has consistently tracked closely with the number of cases in the broader community — and that's very bad news as overall cases continue to skyrocket.