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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

Dec 17, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Biden picks North Carolina environmental regulator Michael Regan to lead EPA

Biden delivering a speech on climate change in September. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden will nominate Michael Regan, the top environmental regulator in North Carolina, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, a source familiar with the decision confirmed to Axios.

Why it matters: If confirmed by the Senate, Regan would be the first Black man to head the agency, which will be tasked with strengthening environmental standards after four years of the Trump administration's aggressive efforts to undo Obama-era protections.

18 mins ago - World

Myanmar military fires UN ambassador after anti-coup speech

Photo: Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Myanmar's military regime on Saturday fired the country's Ambassador to the United Nations, Kyaw Moe Tun, a day after he gave a pro-democracy speech asking UN member nations to publicly condemn the Feb. 1 coup, The New York Times reports.

Details: State television said the ambassador had "betrayed the country and spoken for an unofficial organization which doesn’t represent the country and had abused the power and responsibilities of an ambassador."

Scoop: Biden admin call on Putin pipeline provokes GOP anger

Putin chairs a video meeting in July 2020. Photo: Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

A briefing between the State Department and congressional staff over Vladimir Putin's Russia-Germany gas pipeline got tense this week, with Biden officials deflecting questions about why they hadn't moved faster and more aggressively with sanctions to stop its completion.

  • The Biden officials also denied negotiating with the Germans over a potential side deal to allow the pipeline to be finished.