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
Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.
This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...
Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion
Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences
25.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering
25.10.2016 | Process Engineering