Early man not alone

2012-08-08 21:59

Paris - Modern man's forerunners shared the planet with at least two related species nearly two million years ago, scientists said on Wednesday, pointing to newly-unearthed pieces in a 40-year-old fossil puzzle.

Findings published in the journal Nature touch on the odyssey of our ancestor, the upright-walking early human known as Homo erectus.

H erectus and a tool-making relative called Homo habilis were probably contemporaries of an even older species called Homo rudolfensis, the scientists contend.

"Human evolution [is] clearly not the straight line that it once was" thought to be, study co-author Fred Spoor said in a teleconference.

Spoor and a team dug up teeth, face and jaw fragments from sediment dated to the Pleistocene period at a location east of Lake Turkana in northern Kenya between 2007 and 2009.

The prize culminated an agonising search for clues about a flat-faced, large-brained hominid whose skull had been found nearby in 1972.

Known as KNM-ER 1470, or 1470 for short, the hominid had lived around two million years ago.

But that was the only thing that was clear, for palaeontologists fought bitterly over its identity.

Until 2007, such evidence remained elusive, for the skull lacked a lower jawbone, a vital piece of evidence.

Lucky find

"Then our luck magically changed, and within three years we found three fossils which we believe are attributable to the same species as 1470," said Meave Leakey, who had discovered 1470 with her husband Richard Leakey.

Their daughter Louise was part of the team that found the new fossils.

The new fragments of two individuals that resemble 1470 are between 1.78 million and 1.95 million years old and were found within a 10km radius of the 1470 site.

"One of the big problems with the skull 1470 was that, yes it is remarkably complete with the whole brain case there and a good part of the face, but it doesn't have teeth and it doesn't have a lower jaw with it," said Spoor.

"This [new] little skull had teeth and in fact the teeth are very well preserved."

The new fossils were gently removed from sandstone using a dental drill before being scanned inside and out at a hospital in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

The scans were used in a virtual reconstruction of the entire lower jaw, which proved a good fit with the upper jaw of 1470.

The result: a hominid that most likely is of an even older lineage of homo called H rudolfensis. If so, it deals a blow to a rival theory that 1470 was a misshapen habilis.

"Statistically speaking, the chances that this is really a separate species have now greatly improved," said Spoor.

How different

The three species presumably stayed out of each other's way and ate different foods, the authors surmise.

The find is "significant, because they answer a key question in our evolutionary past - how diverse was our genus close to the base of the human lineage?" said Leakey.

Other experts said the find showed that the six-million-year-old human family tree had complex roots, but cautioned about how they should be interpreted.

For instance, some authorities contend that H erectus evolved from H habilis, while others insist the two were cousin or sister species.

The fossils "help to confirm the existence of a distinctive kind of early human nearly two million years ago," said Chris Stringer of London's Natural History Museum.

"Whether either of these two lineages [habilis and rudolfensis] was ancestral to Homo erectus, let alone to modern humans, remains uncertain," Bernard Wood of the Center for the Advanced Study of Hominid Paleobiology at George Washington University said in a commentary also carried by Nature.

  • Visko - 2012-08-09 00:10

    This stuff is just so fascinating. The deeper we dig, the more we find. That in itself is enough reason to get up in the morning.

      zaatheist - 2012-08-09 06:00

      Absolutely. It is like a huge jigsaw puzzle which is gradually being put together as they find more and more of the pieces.

      phoenix.px.5 - 2012-08-09 10:34

      MemeMan, you dont understand! God put the fossils in the ground to test mans faith. These creatures never existed!!!

      JohanCduToit - 2012-08-09 12:13

      Memenam, God created religion to help him separate the gullible from the intelligent. Guess who is really going to burn in hell...

  • nun.chuck.7 - 2012-08-09 08:25

    Lies, the planet is only 6000 years old.

      CaptainGaza - 2012-08-09 08:39

      What leads you to believe that when evidence points to a much older earth?

      JohanCduToit - 2012-08-09 09:31

      The universe was created 6000 years ago - the Bible says so. God created the earth and all the animals, and also these fossils in the ground. So there you go, problem solved. Some people have spent their whole life believing in god(s), and no amount of evidence will change their minds.

      Meister01 - 2012-08-09 09:39

      Scientist have discovered, that people will believe anything, when you say \scientists have discovered\. Nun.chuck. You are correct

      ejanette.joubert - 2012-08-09 11:00

      Meister - reputable scientists don't just suck things out of their thumbs. And when they publish in academic journals, which are quoted in this story, their info/evidence/conclusions have been checked over and over, by themselves and by independent evaluators. So it is the best and most accurate interpretation available. And be assured, if new evidence is found, the conclusions will be revised. This is called the scientific method - keep on asking questions, and testing the answers. Something ideologues, both political and religious, do not understand. For them, there is one truth only, come what may. Which is the point of Shelley's poem "Ozymandias", which I think of every time someone tries to set up anything that will supposedly last forever, whether it's an idea or a building.

      andre.jordaan.984 - 2012-08-09 14:47

      Ejanette. Since the last time you heard about dinosaurs, a lot of new information came up. But evolution is an easy way to "prove" God does not exist.

  • Mandy Casey - 2012-08-09 08:48

    We still share earth with homo's

      phoenix.px.5 - 2012-08-09 10:35

      Yes unfortunately for you they would never be intersted in you, and in general they are HOT! Sucks for you hey? We'll actually it doest come to think of it.

  • slowdowngardens - 2012-08-09 10:31

    See Facebook pictures\r\n Robberg Stone Age Head Bust of \r\n\Mrs Pleis and a Visitor\

  • nixi.blakeway - 2012-08-09 14:49

    It's all in the interpretation, no person is ever realy objective.

      Paulus - 2012-08-09 16:31

      Which is why these kind of research is never just one person's work. They work in teams, and their findings are cross-checked ad nausea.

  • DamnTheMan - 2012-08-10 10:10

    Its final , religion is dead and will should not be able to lie to innocent children anymore. Damn the man.

  • Robert - 2012-08-10 11:29

    Some of the remarks by theists are appallingly violent and I find it peculiar that as science unmasks and unravels the mysteries relating not only to our origins but also the origins of our universe, we find that those carrying the banner in favour of the ideologies of religion continue to barricade themselves in a froth of verbosity packed with threats of damnation and annihilation, so unbecoming of the supposed objectives of love and eternal peace advocated by their gods. Should they not rather embrace science? It does not seek to destroy their faith because scientific research has no ideological goals and seeks only the truth. When the results of their work discredit or embarrass religious proponents they can always, as in the past, adjust your particular belief to suit the environment. (The Catholics have apologized for their persecution of Galileo and burning of Bruno, albeit a few centuries on but have also adopted Darwinism albeit it must not conflict with its own dogmas. (Whatever that means.)) Science does not seek to deliberately harm theism or theists. It is their negative reaction to scientific discovery that makes them vulnerable. Have faith in your beliefs but be wary of belief in your faiths.

  • clint.angryman.morgan - 2012-09-01 02:16

    It's the dawning of the Age of Aquarius

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