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.
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.
TOM CLARKE | © Nature News Service
Lego-like wall produces acoustic holograms
17.10.2016 | Duke University
New evidence on terrestrial and oceanic responses to climate change over last millennium
11.10.2016 | University of Granada
In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.
Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
07.12.2016 | Health and Medicine
07.12.2016 | Life Sciences
07.12.2016 | Health and Medicine