Credit: Jay Stock
By Science Daily
New research harnessing fragmentary fossils suggests our genus has come in different shapes and sizes since its origins over two million years ago, and adds weight to the idea that humans began to colonise Eurasia while still small and lightweight.
One of the dominant theories of our evolution is that our genus, Homo, evolved from small-bodied early humans to become the taller, heavier and longer legged Homo erectus that was able to migrate beyond Africa and colonise Eurasia. While we know that small-bodied Homo erectus — averaging less than five foot (152cm) and under 50kg — were living in Georgia in southern Europe by 1.77 million years ago, the timing and geographic origin of the larger body size that we associate with modern humans has, until now, remained unresolved.
But a joint study by researchers at the Universities of Cambridge and Tübingen (Germany), published today in the Journal of Human Evolution, has now shown that the main increase in body size occurred tens of thousands of years after Homo erectus left Africa, and primarily in the Koobi Fora region of Kenya. According to Manuel Will, a co-author of the study from the Department of Early Prehistory and Quaternary Ecology at Tübingen, “the evolution of larger bodies and longer legs can thus no longer be assumed to be the main driving factor behind the earliest excursions of our genus to Eurasia.”
Researchers say the results from a new research method, using tiny fragments of fossil to estimate our earliest ancestors’ height and body mass, also point to the huge diversity in body size we see in humans today emerging much earlier than previously thought.
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