Ancient Fossils Shed New Light on Evolution of Humans

Published September 09, 2009

| London Times

A key stage in human evolution may have taken place on the fringes of Europe and not in Africa as has generally been thought, scientists said yesterday.

Fossils of an ancient human relative, or hominin, from Georgia dated from 1.8 million years ago suggest that the first of our ancestors to walk upright could have done so in Eurasia, the British Science Festival was told.

David Lordkipanidze, director of the Georgian National Museum, said the skulls, fossils and limb bones found at Dmanisi in 1999 and 2001 raise the possibility that Homo erectus, a forerunner of modern humans, evolved in Europe or Asia and later spread back to Africa. He also revealed that a fifth well-preserved skull, the most complete yet, had been discovered at the site.

The Dmanisi fossils, which have been identified either as Homo erectus or a new species, Homo georgicus, have already shown ancient hominins began to leave Africa at least 1.8 million years ago, pushing back the accepted date for the first exodus from the cradle of humanity by several hundred thousand years.

This leaves two possible scenarios for a critical phase in evolution, Professor Lordkipanidze said. Either Homo erectus could have evolved in Africa and then spread to Asia and even Europe, or a more primitive relative might have left Africa and evolved into the more upright, advanced species in Eurasia. “We all agree the first appearance of humans was in Africa but when they left and started global colonisation is a debatable issue,” Professor Lordkipanidze said.

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