Skull found in an archaeological site in South Africa, shows that Homo erectus also lived with other hominids in the region.
Excavations in the region known as the Cradle of Humankind, in South Africa, revealed that Homo erectus is older than previously thought. The study, conducted by representatives of five international universities, was published on Friday (3) on Science.
What was known until then about Homo erectus is that, in addition to being the direct ancestor of Homo sapiens, the species lived at least 2 million years ago in areas inside and outside the African continent. Now, the new analysis conducted on a skull found in the Cradle of Humankind has allowed experts to speculate that the hominid lived between 100,000 and 200,000 years before the oldest known Homo erectus fossil so far.
According to experts, this suggests that the species is older than previously believed and therefore confirms the African origin of Homo erectus. “This find really challenged us. We compared the assembled skullcap to all of the other examples of hominins in the Cradle area. Eventually, its teardrop shape and relatively big brain cavity meant we were looking at Homo erectus,” reported Stephanie Baker, a researcher at Johannesburg University in a statement.
Archaeologists say that the skull studied was reconstructed from more than 150 fragments found at the archaeological site. From the detailed analysis of the fossil, the team was able to verify that the bones belonged to an individual aged between 3 and 6 years, giving scientists a rare glimpse of the growth and child development of this species.
“Until this find, we always assumed Homo erectus originated from eastern Africa. But DNH 134 shows that Homo erectus, one of our direct ancestors, possibly comes from southern Africa instead,” said Baker. “That would mean that they later moved northwards into East Africa. From there they went through North Africa to populate the rest of the world.”
Other fossils were found by the team during excavations at the Cradle of Humankind. Among them are the remains of a Paranthropus robustus, a more robust human ancestor, and the bones of a third distinct species, Australopithecus sediba. “Unlike the current situation, where we are the only human species, 2 million years ago, our direct ancestor was not alone,” said Andy Herries, a researcher at La Trobe University in Australia, in a statement.
The researchers point out that it is not yet known whether or not there was interaction between these species, but the fact that these hominids coexisted is already fascinating. “We still don’t know if they interacted directly, but their presence increases the possibility that these ancient humans have developed strategies to divide the landscape and its resources in some way, so that they could live so close together,” explained Gary Schwartz, from the University of Arizona, in the United States.