Prehistoric skeleton with ‘surfer’s ears’

2014-10-07 00:00

A 2 330-YEAR-OLD skeleton has shown that the man who it belongs to had “surfer’s ear”.

Academics and reseachers believe the skeleton may provide clues to early modern human prehistory in Southern Africa.

The skeleton was found by University of Cape Town’s Emeritus Professor Andrew Smith at St Helena Bay in the Western Cape in 2010, said Mologadi Makwela, spokesperson for the University of Cape Town, in a statement yesterday.

Smith together with Professor Alan Morris extracted mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from the skeleton.

The crucial DNA was extracted from the inner canal region of a single tooth and ribs.

The pair generated a complete ancient mitochondrial genome from the skeleton which “is the first genomic evidence that pre-pastoral Southern African marine foragers carried the earliest diverged maternal modern human lineages”, according to Smith.

Morris, a biological anthropologist, said the man was a “marine forager” who was in his fifties when he died.

“A bony growth in his ear canal, known as ‘surfer’s ear’, suggests that he spent some time diving for food in the cold coastal waters, while shells carbon-dated to the same period and found near his grave, confirmed his seafood diet,” he said.

The closest surviving lineage to this skeleton is represented by click-speaking forager peoples commonly found in the semi-desert regions of Namibia and Botswana.

Archaeological, historical and genetic evidence indicates that there once was a broader southerly dispersal of click-speaking peoples, including southward migrating pastoralists and indigenous marine-foragers.

“This study highlights the significance of Southern African archaeological remains in defining early modern human origins,” Smith concluded.

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