Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Homo erectus 200,000 Years Older Than We Thought

UPI has a story about a discovery in South Africa of a Homo erectus infant that is 200 ky older than the oldest known specimen currently in existence.  From the original Science article
Fossil hominins from South Africa are enriching the story of early human evolution and dispersal. Herries et al. describe the geological context and dating of the hominin-bearing infilled cave, or palaeocave, at a site called Drimolen in South Africa (see the Perspective by Antón). They focus on the age and context of a recently discovered Homo erectus sensu lato fossil and a Paranthropus robustus fossil, which they dated to ∼2.04 million to 1.95 million years ago. This makes Drimolen one of the best-dated sites in South Africa and establishes these fossils as the oldest definitive specimens of their respective species ever discovered. The age confirms that species of Australopithecus, Paranthropus, and early Homo overlapped in the karst of South Africa ∼2 million years ago
The goofy thing about this is that, in East Africa,  early Homo was still running around and out-competing the robust australopithecines (Paranthropus).  The fossil was uncovered and described over a five year period at the site of Drimolen, which is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in South Africa that contains the important fossil sites of Swartkrans and Sterkfontein. 

From the UPI story:
“One of the questions that interests us is what role changing habitats, resources, and the unique biological adaptations of early Homo erectus may have played in the eventual extinction of Australopithecus sediba in South Africa,” said study co-author Justin Adams, researcher at Monash University's Biomedicine Discovery Institute.
“Similar trends are also seen in other mammal species at this time. For example, there are more than one species of false sabre tooth cat, Dinofelis, at the site -- one of which became extinct after two million years,” Adams said. “Our data reinforces the fact that South Africa represented a truly unique mixture of evolutionary lineages -- a blended community of ancient and modern mammal species that was transitioning as climates and ecosystems changed.”
Just a few short years ago, it was thought that Australopithecus sediba might be ancestral to early Homo based on the characteristics of its hands, pelvis and the proximity of stone tools to the Rising Star Cave.  This was an idea championed by Lee Berger, but it now seems likely that it was another, earlier form that gave rise to Homo erectus

Here is the photo of DNH134, taken by Jesse Martin, Reanud Joannes-Boyau, and Andy I. R. Herries

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