Fossil hunters in Ethiopia have unearthed an ancient skull which
they say could be a "missing link" between Homo
ergaster and modern
man [in other words, that of Homo heidelbergensis].
The cranium was found in two pieces and is believed by its
discoverers to be between 500,000 and 250,000 years old.
The project's director, Dr Sileshi Semaw, said the fossilised
specimen came from "a very significant time" in human evolutionary
It was found at Gawis in Ethiopia's north-eastern Afar region.
Stone tools and fossilised animals including two types of pigs,
zebras, elephants, antelopes, cats, and rodents were also found at
The skull appeared "to be intermediate between the earlier
Homo [ergaster] and the later Homo sapiens," Sileshi Semaw, an Ethiopian
research scientist at the Stone Age Institute at Indiana University,
US, told a news conference in Addis Ababa.
'Wealth of information'
The palaeoanthropologist said most fossil hominids were found in
pieces, but the near-complete skull provided a wealth of
"[It] opens a window into an intriguing and important period in
the development of modern humans," he explained.
Little is known about the period during which African Homo
[ergaster] evolved into our own species Homo sapiens
[via Homo heidelbergensis].
The fossil record from Africa for this period is sparse and most
of the specimens are poorly dated, project archaeologists said.
The face and cranium of the fossil are recognisably different
from those of modern humans, but the specimen bears unmistakable
anatomical evidence that it belongs to the modern human ancestral
line, Dr Semaw said.
Scientists conducting surveys in the Gawis River drainage basin
found the skull in a small gully.
Over the last 50 years, Ethiopia has been a key site for
archaeologists hunting for fossil human ancestors.
Gawis is situated near Hadar, where palaeoanthropologist Donald
Johanson found the 3.2-million-year-old remains of "Lucy", the
partial skeleton of a hominid belonging to the species
Australopithecus afarensis, in 1974.