Ancient skull from China may rewrite the origins of our species

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By Colin Barras

The origins of our species might need a rethink. An analysis of an ancient skull from China suggests it is eerily similar to the earliest known fossils of our species –found in Morocco, some 10,000 kilometres to the west. The skull hints that modern humans aren’t solely descended from African ancestors, as is generally thought.

Most anthropologists believe, based on fossil evidence, that our species arose in Africa around 200,000 years ago. What’s more, genetic studies of modern humans indicate that we are all descended from a single population that left Africa within the last 120,000 years and spread around the world. This African group is the source of all modern human genes, barring a few gained by interbreeding with other species like Neanderthals.

However, the Dali skull may not fit this story. Discovered in China’s Shaanxi Province in 1978, it is remarkably complete, preserving both the face and the brain case. A study published in April concluded the skull is about 260,000 years old.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Meanwhile going further back in time: –

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-42250530

    One of the oldest and most complete skeletons of humankind’s ancestors has been unveiled in South Africa. (see image on the link!)

    A team spent more than 20 years excavating, cleaning and putting together the skeleton of Little Foot.

    Its exact age is debated, but South African scientists say the remains are 3.67 million years old.

    This would mean Little Foot was alive around 500,000 years before Lucy, the famous skeleton of an ancient human relative found in Ethiopia.

    Both Little Foot and Lucy belong to the same genus – Australopithecus – but they are different species.

    Scientists believe this shows humankind’s ancestors were spread across a far wider area of Africa than had previously thought. It also suggests there was a diverse number of species.

    Little Foot was discovered in the Sterkfontein caves, north-west of South Africa’s main city Johannesburg, by Professor Ron Clarke.

    It is thought that she was a young girl who fell down a shaft of one of the caves.

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