New Skull Reveals A Simpler Family Tree
It took just one skull, but it allowed anthropologists to drastically simplify our evolutionary family tree. The 1.8-million-year-old specimen was unearthed in the Eurasian country Georgia, and pored over by an international team of scientists led by Georgian paleoanthropologist David Lordkipanidze for eight years. It’s a missing link, of sorts, tying together as a single species other early, diverse fossils that were previously identified as belonging to distinct species. With this new skull, anthropologists think those fossils might, in fact, represent a wide spectrum of traits from a single evolutionary line.
Experts say this cranium, known as Skull 5, one of the most important ever discovered—it’s completely preserved, adult, and very old. Lordkipanidze and his team compared it with other contemporary fossils. Here’s John Noble Wilford writing for The New York Times:
The discovery of Skull 5 alongside the remains of four other hominids at Dmanisi, a site in Georgia rich in material of the earliest hominid travels into Eurasia, gave the scientists an opportunity to compare and contrast the physical traits of ancestors that apparently lived at the same location and around the same time.
Dr. Lordkipanidze and his colleagues said the differences between these fossils were no more pronounced than those between any given five modern humans or five chimpanzees. The hominids who left the fossils, they noted, were quite different from one another but still members of one species.
Skull 5 has a long, apelike face, large teeth and a tiny braincase. If scientists had found these elements as separate fossils across Africa, they would likely label them as coming from different species. But they were found together, with other Dmanisi fossils from the same time.
Written By: Allison Eck
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