Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Skull thwarts species-splitters

21.03.2002


One-million-year-old skull found recently in Ethiopia.
© Nature/ Bill Atlanta


This "terrific find" seems to complicate the story of human evolution.
© D.L. Bill/ Bill Atlanta


Ethiopian fossil suggests early humans were one big family.

A one-million-year-old skull unearthed in Ethiopia hints that our long-extinct cousins Homo erectus were a varied and widespread bunch, much like today’s humans. The find may undermine previous claims that H. erectus was in fact made up of two different species.

Homo erectus, which means ’upright man’, appeared about 1.8 million years ago. Because of its posture and large brain, it is regarded as the first fully human group. H. erectus left Africa and spread throughout Eurasia from eastern China, possibly reaching as far as southern England.

Bony-browed and thick-jawed, H. erectus wielded primitive stone tools and may have been the first creature to make and use fire.

Since the 1980s, however, some scientists have suggested that 1.7-million-year-old H. erectus fossils from Africa and central Asia are so different to later 700,000-year-old examples that they belong to a different species, Homo ergaster.

The latest find could turn that theory on its head.

Face value

The fossil is in remarkably good shape considering it is a million years old, says Berhane Asfaw of the University of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, one of the team that found the skull near the village of Bouri, 230 km northeast of Addis Ababa, in 1997. "It’s a complete skull cap with all the important features present," Asfaw says.

The shape of the skull aligns it firmly with the recent H. erectus, but it shares some characteristics with older ones, says Asfaw. Its age also puts it right between where H. erectus and H. ergaster might have split. "Our fossil clearly links Asian and African forms of H. erectus," says Asfaw1.

Unless something else turns up, the find strongly suggests that H. ergaster is a misnomer, Asfaw believes.

Alan Walker, who studies human evolution at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, agrees. "It is arbitrary to break up the lineage into and early ergaster and later erectus," he says.

But Bernard Wood of George Washington University in Washington, DC, who first proposed the H. ergaster as a distinct group, is holding on to his idea. "It’s a terrific find," he says and certainly relevant to H. erectus’ history. But he suspects the new find bears too little resemblance to H. ergaster to rule them out as a separate group.

Even if the skull does unify H. erectus as a group, it doesn’t simplify the picture of their history.

Finding a fossil in Ethiopia that looks like east Asian H. erectus suggests that anatomical features, such as skull shape, might have varied independently of location. Previously, the geographical separation of different forms of H. erectus fossils was thought to explain why they look the way they do.

References

  1. Asfaw, B. et al. Pleistocene hominids from Bouri Ethiopia integrate Homo erectus. Nature, 416, 317 - 320, (2002).

TOM CLARKE | © Nature News Service

More articles from Interdisciplinary Research:

nachricht Stealth Virus for Cancer Therapy
31.01.2018 | Universität Zürich

nachricht New formulas for exploring the age structure of non-linear dynamical systems
23.01.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Biogeochemie

All articles from Interdisciplinary Research >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: In best circles: First integrated circuit from self-assembled polymer

For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.

In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...

Im Focus: Demonstration of a single molecule piezoelectric effect

Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale

Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...

Im Focus: Hybrid optics bring color imaging using ultrathin metalenses into focus

For photographers and scientists, lenses are lifesavers. They reflect and refract light, making possible the imaging systems that drive discovery through the microscope and preserve history through cameras.

But today's glass-based lenses are bulky and resist miniaturization. Next-generation technologies, such as ultrathin cameras or tiny microscopes, require...

Im Focus: Stem cell divisions in the adult brain seen for the first time

Scientists from the University of Zurich have succeeded for the first time in tracking individual stem cells and their neuronal progeny over months within the intact adult brain. This study sheds light on how new neurons are produced throughout life.

The generation of new nerve cells was once thought to taper off at the end of embryonic development. However, recent research has shown that the adult brain...

Im Focus: Interference as a new method for cooling quantum devices

Theoretical physicists propose to use negative interference to control heat flow in quantum devices. Study published in Physical Review Letters

Quantum computer parts are sensitive and need to be cooled to very low temperatures. Their tiny size makes them particularly susceptible to a temperature...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

2nd International Conference on High Temperature Shape Memory Alloys (HTSMAs)

15.02.2018 | Event News

Aachen DC Grid Summit 2018

13.02.2018 | Event News

How Global Climate Policy Can Learn from the Energy Transition

12.02.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Contacting the molecular world through graphene nanoribbons

19.02.2018 | Materials Sciences

When Proteins Shake Hands

19.02.2018 | Materials Sciences

Cells communicate in a dynamic code

19.02.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>