Scientists use skull to dig up new story
By John Noble Wilford THE NEW YORK TIMES
After eight years spent studying a 1.8-million-year-old skull uncovered in the republic of Georgia, scientists have made a discovery that might rewrite the evolutionary history of our human genus Homo.
- The history might be a simpler story with fewer ancestral species. Early, diverse fossils — those currently recognized as coming from distinct species like Homo habilis, Homo erectus and others — might represent variation among members of a single, evolving lineage.
In other words: Just as people look different from one another today, so did early hominids, and the dissimilarity of the bones they left might have fooled scientists into thinking that they came from different species.
This was the conclusion reached by a team of scientists led by David Lordkipanidze, a paleoanthropologist at the Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi, as reported yesterday in the journal Science.
The key to this conclusion was a cranium excavated in 2005 known as Skull 5, which scientists described as “the world’s first completely preserved adult hominid skull.” Unlike other Homo fossils, it had a number of primitive features: a long apelike face, large teeth and a tiny brain-case, about one-third the size of a modern human brain.
Skull 5 was discovered alongside the remains of four other hominids, whose fossils were different from one another but still members of one species, Lordkipanidze said.
This is incredible and fascinating stuff — I’ll never tire of hearing about these possibilities. Gratifying to fantasize about the differences between the companion hominids found together with our treasured relic being different, yet related. Don’t think the cranial cavity being smaller is too much to concern us; they didn’t have as much to “think about” back then as we do now. So many scientific advances have changed things along the evolutionary path . . . . . . and yet, look at all the instinctual knowledge that you and I have lost since then. There is no way for us to evaluate that or compare, we can only imagine. Ah well,. . .just sayin’. . .Jan)