This not only contradicts earlier assumptions that our physical/mental evolution supposedly stabilized that long ago, but it validates the underlying basis of the Mayan Calendar, a radically different way of understanding time that has only recently come to be understood — and is still outside the mainstream framework of such considerations.
According to the NY Times in a copyrighted article by Nicholas Wade, the discovery was made through a more intensive analysis of the human genetic structure, and is assumed to derive from the continuing effect of natural selection.
The news is meaningful to all concerned with the course of human development; but it is a breakthrough validation for those who understand the significance of the Mayan Calendar, which holds that we are swiftly moving toward some wholly new epoch, just a short four years away. Some hold this time to be the year 2012, while others foresee it a year earlier.
While our common calendar merely tracks the steady, repetitive course of Earth's annual circuit of the sun (resulting in our familiar seasons, due to the constant tilt of Earth's axis), the so-called Mayan Calendar had a completely different focus: it was purportedly tracking the course of human evolvement over time; and more specifically, human consciousness.
How was this possible for what we today regard as a primitive culture? This remains a matter of conjecture; but the analysis of their calendar structure (it was actually one of several calendars they used, for different purposes) leaves little doubt about its intended function.
Developed by the Mayans in central Mexico about a thousand years ago, and recently interpreted from stone carvings, along with remnant rituals still performed in the native culture, this calendar posits a tightly defined series of time-passages: nine levels that can be visualized as steps, for each beyond the first was only one-twentieth the length (in time) as the previous one. And within each such level, a division into thirteen equidistant stages.
Each level was said to constellate a coherent span of human development, and the thirteen stages within that level could be seen as stages of evolvement somewhat similar to the stages of seasonal growth in the course of Nature's year. Much more detail on this can be found in the study, The Mayan Calendar and the Transformation of Consciousness by Dr. Carl Johan Calleman (2004).
Such a schema naturally narrows down toward an 'end time', and it's this end-time which now swiftly approaches. No one can say what it will bring, but speculation is rife. The really interesting thing about it is that it tallied – time-wise – with other supposed 'end times' that derive from entirely different (and unrelated) sources of speculation.
It is a broad area for consideration, but the important thing of the moment is the newly provable validation of this idea that development – not cultural or scientific, but actual human development – has been speeding up at a significant rate, for that idea resides at the very heart of the Mayan Calendar thesis.
Here is an elaborating observation written for Scientific American by David Biello, who says quite directly, "comparing the amount of genetic differentiation between humans and our closest relatives, chimpanzees, suggests that the pace of change has accelerated to 10 to 100 times the average long-term rate, the researchers write in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA."
Or this by John Roach, from National Geographic: "The pace of change accelerated about 40,000 years ago and then picked up even more with the advent of agriculture about 10,000 years ago..."
There is greater detail in the study being referenced, and speculation as to the proximate cause of such remarkably accelerated change, but basic to all of it is the fact of it, which is totally supportive of those who subscribe to the notion of hugely significant change that is shortly ahead of us.