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Prehistoric World

Ancient Skull found in Ethiopia

Edited from BBC News, 27 March 2006

Fossil hunters in Ethiopia in 2006 unearthed an ancient skull which they said could be a 'missing link' between Homo ergaster and modern man. In other words, it would have been an example of Homo heidelbergensis.

The cranium was found in two pieces and was believed by its discoverers to be between 500,000 and 250,000 years old. The project's director was Dr Sileshi Semaw, an Ethiopian research scientist at the Stone Age Institute at Indiana University in the USA. He said that the fossilised specimen came from 'a very significant time' in human evolutionary history.

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 site. As Dr Semaw told a news conference in Addis Ababa, the skull appeared to be intermediate between the earlier Homo [ergaster] and the later Homo sapiens.

Wealth of information

The palaeoanthropologist stated that most fossil hominids were found in pieces, but the near-complete skull provided a wealth of information. It opened a window into an intriguing and important period in the development of modern humans.

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.

The face and cranium of this particular fossil were recognisably different from those of modern humans, but the specimen bears unmistakable anatomical evidence that it belongs to the modern human ancestral line.

Scientists conducting surveys in the Gawis River drainage basin found the skull in a small gully. Over the last fifty 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.

Homo heidelbergensis
This partial skullcap dated to 300,000 years ago is one of an extremely small number of early human fossils found on the Indian sub-continent - it may be heidelbergensis, which would make it the most easterly example of the species to date (2017)



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