Studies on a newly discovered skull dating back 1.8 million years could drastically change the way we understand human evolution.
According to the new theory, humanity’s early ancestors could have emerged from Africa as a single adventurous species, and not three or more as previously believed. It follows the discovery in 2005 of a fifth skull on the Dmanisi site in Georgia – an ancient route in the Caucasus for the first human migrations out of Africa.
The find has allowed experts in evolution to analyse the physical differences between individuals living in the same place at the same time. They now believe that what they used to consider as anatomical differences are simply differences within the same population, just as people look different from one another today.
The ancient Dmanisi inhabitants had legs and feet adapted for long-distance walking, similar to those of modern-day humans, but their hands and arms were similar to those of our tree-dwelling ancestors.
“We are very lucky we have now best evidence of the early homo presence, and this is the most complete skull ever found in the world from this time period,” said David Lordkipanidze, director of the Georgian National Museum.
“It shows that many features that we thought before were morphological are in fact individual. You can see the difference between these two jaws (he points to the skulls) and the first impression is that they could be two different species, but this skull shows that it’s just one population. So, the Dmanisi sample is the most complete sample ever found for the early homo population.”
Excavation work continues at the Dmanisi site to see if further evidence of early human presence emerges, but much more research will be needed to understand how hominids evolved into today’s human beings before history books are rewritten.