This has led some to believe they may have been
Homo habilis. But the relatively ape-like habilis was not
thought to have lived outside Africa. Other researchers have coined the
term Homo georgicus to describe the finds - so the confusion
Despite the fact they used only very basic chopping and
cutting tools and the lack of evidence for the use of fire by these
hominids, the new discovery hints at a new level of sophistication. 'My
personal opinion is that these people were remarkably human in a lot
of ways,' said Professor Ferring. 'These were tiny people living in
a very harsh environment.
'I think we can only compare them to modern humans
in their social skills and behaviour, which allowed them to survive
against all these odds.'
The ageing individual - whom palaeoanthropologists
estimate lost his teeth some years before death - would not have been
able to chew the raw meat or fibrous plants which made up the creatures'
For most animals other than humans - and their now
extinct cousins the Neanderthal - this would have been a death sentence.
But, Professor Ferring believes, this 'old man' must have been kept
alive by being fed the choice soft morsels like brain, marrow, and
'Cooking was not in the equation and it is inconceivable
that he would have been able to eat raw meat,' he said. 'So he must have
consumed much more than his share of these very choice soft foods.
'He was either being cared for or being given very preferential
Whether his group was just being kind, or whether there
was an ulterior motive, can only be guessed at. It is possible, according
to Professor Ferring, that the toothless man was an extremely useful
member of his society.
'It is unclear whether he could contribute to the
livelihood of the whole group in terms of procuring food and defending
the group and caring for young,' Professor Ferring added. Elderly members
of the group may also have been valuable for cultural reasons, just as
in modern societies.
The professor concluded: 'This person may have
had a function similar to old people in hunter gatherer societies -
his experience and knowledge may have given him high status.'
The aging individual lost his teeth before death, but survived
quite some time, meaning that the rest of the tribe must have