This jawbone may change everything we know about early human history

Mar 10, 2015

Credit: John Reader

By Rebecca Jacobson

When paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey discovered the 1.8 million-year-old Homo habilis in 1964, it was thought to be our first human ancestor. Because of its close proximity to stone tools, Homo habilis became known as the “Handy man.” Here was our first hunting, scavenging, tool-making, big-brained ancestor, Leakey said.

After “Lucy”, the older, ape-like Australopithecus afarensis, was uncovered in 1974,Homo habilis appeared to bridge the gap between older fossils and modern humans. It had smaller teeth and jaws, a bigger brain and more sophisticated hands than Lucy.

Human evolution had a nice clear line from Lucy 3.2 million years ago to Homo habilis toHomo erectus and finally Homo sapiens — us. Or so it seemed.

“It was wonderfully Darwinian,” said William Kimbel, director of the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University. And, he added, it was likely wrong.

“Fifty years ago, it was pleasing and consistent that there was one early Homo form,” he said. “And it now appears to be much more complicated.”

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14 comments on “This jawbone may change everything we know about early human history

  • Not much to do with that, unfortunately. Yes, scientists alter their beliefs to accommodate new EVIDENCE (with which Christians are entirely unfamiliar.) If you read your Bible with your eyes actually open, you might pick up some of the myriad contradictions, mistakes, errors inherent within and understand exactly how silly the whole thing sounds. Do you believe the Sun revolves around the Earth? Because that was how it was first explained by the church but we know now that it was incorrect and that they were WRONG!

    Keep hanging on to your ridiculous mythology, seems to have been working so far, huh?

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  • I don’t think scientists are looking for the common ancestor/missing link at all. It is a media concept which they cannot let go. The evidence is not bountiful and the analysis is often very imaginative. But certain things do seem to form a core. The most important is that there appears at all epochs of “human” existence (except the current), several “species” coexisting. “Speciation” used to be defined as something like “unable to produce viable offspring”, but with a better understanding of genetics we now know that viable breeding among closely related species is not only possible but so common that its traces remain over tens of thousands of years in the fossil record. A more viable picture of Mans’ descent is that any “human/hominid species” could interbreed with whatever else was around at the time. True speciation would only occur where populations were isolated over tens of thousands of years. My bet is that if we could “Resurrect” any ancient hominid (Jurassic Park like) then current humans could breed with it. It is even suggested that we are still genetically close enough to breed with Chimps (but ethical issues make that improbable to prove).
    We do not have a common ancestor we have common ancestors, in the same way as we don’t have a parent but parents

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  • Perhaps something like the hashtag, but that might lessen the impact of my satire. I like to think that rather than sarcasm, which is the lowest form of wit, I was employing attic, ironic lampoonery.

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  • That makes sense to me. It’s like many areas of prehistory, in the process of dating and placing events, transitions etc., it’s tempting to think in absolute terms. A good example of this is the spread of farming in Northern Europe. It didn’t happen overnight, but perhaps took hundreds of years for the transition from hunter-gatherer to farmer to be complete. Life has always been a flow, an incremental movement. Your theory of interbreeding seems possible, likely even.

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  • I didn’t spot the sarcasm either, but the comment so enraged me that it prompted me to join the Richard Dawkins Foundation – so thank you Eejit! 🙂

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