With the discovery of each new skull fragment, femur, and stone tool, however, archaeologists are methodically piecing together the fractured history of our species and other hominins closely related to us.Putting a face on a pivotal ancient speciesA nearly intact skull found three years ago in Ethiopia provided a much-needed glimpse into the facial characteristics of Australopithecus anamensis – an early hominin linked to human evolution.Analysis of the skull by palaeoanthropologist Yohannes Haile-Selassie from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in the US and his colleagues revealed a mix of old and modern features, including a long, robust, and protruding face, small teeth, and a large cranium compared to similar species.We still don’t know which Australopithecine spawned humanity, but A. afarensis appears to be the best candidate.The earliest fossil evidence of modern humans in Africa
The paper received a tremendous amount of press coverage (see here, here, and here), but given the controversy that now surrounds this research, it’s a wonder the paper, published this past Monday (October 28, 2019) in Nature, managed to pass peer review – at least according to the many experts we spoke to.The complaints we received from scientists were almost too many to mention, the most serious being a weak and inconclusive genetic analysis, the failure to cite and address competing archaeological evidence, sweeping assumptions about one particular group of indigenous southern Africans, and an outdated “colonial” approach to the subject matter.The researchers used this mtDNA to map – at least what is in their opinion – the oldest maternal lineage derived from humans living today.Modern humans found a home in this verdant area, inhabiting the region for 70,000 years, according to the study.But as the climate began to change, some of these humans migrated elsewhere, travelling along the “green corridors” to the northeast and then to the southwest.Research from 2017 showed that Homo sapiens, sometimes referred to as anatomically modern humans, have been around for at least 300,000 years – and possibly even longer – as evidenced by fossils found in northern Africa, specifically the Jebel Irhoud site in Morocco.
It’s the earliest indication of our species on the continent, but the lack of supporting archaeological evidence raises some questions.The human fragment, dubbed Apidima 1, is just the back of the skull and was dated to 210,000 years ago, making it the oldest evidence of modern humans in Eurasia.Our species emerged in Africa around 100,000 years prior, with the earliest evidence of our species dating back to the Jebel Irhoud site in Morocco and the remarkable discovery of 315,000-year-old human fossils.Moreover, the earliest prior evidence of modern humans outside of Africa was discovered in Israel’s Misliya Cave – a partial jawbone dated to between 175,000 and 200,000 years ago.Regardless, this interpretation suggests a complicated migration scenario for early modern humans, as this is potential evidence of multiple dispersals from Africa, rather than one major exodus.“These results suggest that two late Middle Pleistocene human groups were present at this site – an early Homo sapiens population, followed by a Neanderthal population,” wrote the authors in the new study.