Melbourne: Researchers have unearthed the earliest known skull of Homo erectus, the first of human ancestors in behaviour and anatomy, a finding that adds more than a hundred thousand years to the first appearance dates of the species.
Following years of excavation at the fossil-rich site of Drimolen in South Africa, researchers including those from the Arizona State University in the US, recovered several new fossils, including a skull attributed to Homo erectus.
According to the study, published in the journal Science, the skull is dated to be two million years old, making it the most ancient fossil Homo erectus known, and pushing back evidence of the first appearance of the species by more than a hundred thousand years.
The skull, reconstructed from more than 150 separate fragments, is of an individual likely aged between three and six years old, the study noted. This gave the world a rare glimpse into childhood growth and development in these early human ancestors, they said.
Other fossils recovered from the site belonged to a different species — in fact, a different genus of ancient human altogether, the scientists said. “What is really exciting is the discovery that during this same narrow time slice, at just around two million years ago, there were three very different types of ancient human ancestors roaming the same small landscape,” said study co-author Gary Schwartz, a paleoanthropologist from Arizona State University.
“We don’t yet know whether they interacted directly, but their presence raises the possibility that these ancient fossil humans evolved strategies to divvy up the landscape and its resources in some way to enable them to live in such close proximity,” Schwartz said.