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The pair ran some computational models that bore out this behavior, which leads us back to the paper’s bizarre theory. Melott and Thomas believe a surge in lightning strikes caused by these supernovae may have caused a spate of wildfires (evidenced by an increase in soot and carbon deposits corresponding with this time period). These wildfires may have been responsible for burning down many forests in Northeast Africa, converting them into grassier savannas. And in recent years, it’s been hypothesized that the conversion of these areas into savannas may have encouraged bipedalism in ancestral hominid species. With trees sparsely dotting the landscape, bipedalism would have been a more energy-efficient way of navigating from place to place. With no trees to perch from, standing up would have at least allowed hominins to get a glimpse of any predators lurking in the tall grass.
Unfortunately, it’s not a theory that fits too neatly into what we already know about human evolution. “It’s clear to me this was written by people who are not working on the fossil record directly,” says Ashley Hammond, an assistant curator of biological anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History. “Those that have worked in the fossil record will tell you that 2.6 million years ago,...
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