Tech UPTechnologyOur most direct human ancestor is older than previously...

Our most direct human ancestor is older than previously thought

The discovery of an infant skull in the Drimolen cave of South Africa reveals that Homo erectus lived 2 million years ago alongside other more primitive human species such as Australopithecus sediba and Paranthropus robustus . It is the oldest Homo erectus fossil ever found, the first human species to walk fully upright and also the first to leave Africa about 1.8 million years ago. This discovery completely modifies the debate about where this very successful species evolved.


Three hominids coexisting in southern Africa

Thus, Homo erectus could live between 200,000 and 150,000 years earlier than previously thought , showing that members of three different lines of hominids were grouped together in southern Africa approximately 2 million years ago. However, it is not clear if the three ancient populations inhabited the region at exactly the same time.

These discoveries indicate that a great transition occurred in hominin evolution in southern Africa. During this time period, climatic and habitat fluctuations drove Australopithecus species to extinction . H. erectus and P. robustus withstood those ecological challenges, possibly outpacing Australopithecus for limited resources, the researchers speculate.

Paleoanthropologists from La Trobe University in Melbourne (Australia) found two fossil skulls, one from Homo erectus (a child) and the other from Paranthropus robustus (an adult). Both findings date from between 2.04 million and 1.95 million years ago , as stated in their study published in the journal Science, and they leave open the interaction of H. erectus with Paranthropus and Australopithecus . Of course, without DNA evidence it will be very difficult to determine if the three species could interbreed.


Analyzing the fossils

Considering that Homo erectus was the first species we know of whose body shape most closely resembles ours, indicating a total adaptation to life on the ground, it also appears to have survived almost 2 million years on Earth, spreading widely. part of the world, such a wide dispersion that it raises many questions about its evolution.

The team dated the fossil skullcases at Drimolen using two techniques to calculate the time since sediments formed just below and above where the specimens were found, including paleomagnetic, electron spin resonance, uranium-lead and faunal dating. Evidence of previously dated reversals of the Earth’s magnetic field in the Drimolen sediment helped confirm the age estimates for the fossils. The researchers estimated that the skull of the smallest individual (DNH 134) had too large a brain capacity for an Australopithecus child and that it was only 2-3 years old when it died. It was a Homo erectus.

After all, and because Homo erectus is one of our direct ancestors (the last Homo erectus lived up to 117,000 years ago), the current discovery has implications for the origins of modern humans.

“Until this finding, we always assumed that Homo erectus originated in East Africa. But DNH 134 shows that Homo erectus possibly comes from southern Africa. That would mean they later moved north into East Africa. from there they passed through North Africa to populate the rest of the world “, explains Stephanie Baker, co-author of the work.


Referencia: A.I.R. Herries el al., “Contemporaneity of Australopithecus, Paranthropus, and early Homo erectus in S. Africa,” Science (2020). … 1126/science.aaw7293

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