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Fossil Skull Casts Doubt Over Modern Human Ancestry

Griffith University scientists have led an international team to date the fossil skull of an early human found in Africa, potentially upending human evolution knowledge with their discovery. The Broken Hill (Kabwe 1) skull is one of the best-preserved fossils of the early human species Homo heidelbergensis and was estimated to be about 500,000 years old.

Professor Rainer Grün from the Environmental Futures Research Institute led the team that analyzed the skull and other fossil human remains found in the vicinity, including a tibia and femur midshaft fragment. The material is curated at the Natural History Museum in London, where collaborators Professor Chris Stringer and Senior Curator Michael Rumsey work.

Discovered in 1921 by miners in Zambia, the Broken Hill remains have been difficult to date due to their haphazard recovery and the site being completely destroyed by quarrying. Using radiometric dating methods, Professor Grün’s analyses now put the skull at a relatively young date, estimating it is between 274,000 and 324,000 years old. Publishing their findings and methodology in Nature, Professor Grün said:

(Credit: Griffith University)
Professor Grün’s analyses now put the skull at a relatively young date, estimating it is between 274,000 and 324,000 years old. (Image: Griffith University)

The research also suggests that human evolution in Africa around 300,000 years ago was a much more complex process, with the co-existence of different human lineages. Professor Stringer said:

Professor Grün said his team’s research adds to new and emerging studies that question the mode of modern human evolution in Africa and whether Homo heidelbergensis is a direct ancestor of our species.

Provided by: Griffith University [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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  • Troy was born and raised in Australia and has always wanted to know why and how things work, which led him to his love for science. He is a professional photographer and enjoys taking pictures of Australia's beautiful landscapes. He is also a professional storm chaser where he currently lives in Hervey Bay, Australia.

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