Fossil Cousins didn't make it - Page 2 - Last update 5/14/2013

Fossil Cousins is for information about other primates living at the time but are not thought to be in the Homo line of descent.
-- 2.7 myr:     Australopithecus aethiopicus 2.5 - 2.7 Myr
-- 2.6 myr:     Australopithecus sediba  1.98 - 2.6 myr
-- 2.33 myr:   Homo habilis 1.4 - 2.33 Myr
-- 2.3 myr:     Australopithecus boisei or Paranthropus Boisei  1.2 - 2.3 Myr
-- 2 myr:        New pre-human species offers evolutionary clues
-- 1.85 myr:  Homo erectus  1.85 - 1.77 Myr
-- 600,000:   Homo neanderthalensis

Home      Back

 New pre-human species offers evolutionary clues

Apr 8, 2010   Science   By Kate Kelland    LONDON

Artist rendition of New pre-human

(Reuters) - Two partial skeletons unearthed in a South African cave belong to a previously unclassified species of pre-human dating back almost 2 million years and may shed new light on human evolution, scientists said on Thursday.

Fossils of the bones of a young male and an adult female suggest the newly documented species, called Australopithecus sediba, walked upright and shared many physical traits with the earliest known human Homo species.

The finding of the pre-human, or hominid, fossils -- which scientists say are between 1.78 and 1.95 million years old -- was published in the journal Science and may answer some key questions about where humans came from.

Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, who led the team that found the fossils in August 2008, told a news conference held near the cave outside Johannesburg the discovery was "unprecedented."

"I am struck by the exceptional nature of something right on our doorstep ... there are more hominid fossils than I have ever discovered in my entire career," he said.

"When we found it we never imagined that we were looking at a new species."

Berger earlier told reporters by telephone the team were hoping to reveal a possible two further skeletons from the same site.

He was reluctant to define the new species as a "missing link" in human evolutionary history, but said it would "contribute enormously to our understanding of what was going on at that moment where the early members of the genus Homo emerged."


South African Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe told the news conference: "As any parent knows, one of the most common questions a child asks is, 'where do I come from?' It has become clear the answer is 'Africa'.

"With the World Cup in 63 days, we will now be able to welcome people from the world with fresh news of our past."

Many experts believe the human genus Homo evolved from the Australopithecus genus about 2 million years ago. One of the best-known pre-humans is "Lucy," the skeleton of a species called Australopithecus afarensis, and this new species is about 1 million years younger than "Lucy," the scientists said.

The fossils, a juvenile male and an adult female, were found in the Malapa caves in the "Cradle of Mankind" World Heritage Site, 40 km (25 miles) outside Johannesburg.

The species had long arms, like an ape, short powerful hands, a very advanced pelvis and long legs capable of striding and possibly running like a human, the researchers said.

The scientists estimate both hominids were about 1.27 meters, although the child would have grown taller.

The brain size of the younger one was probably between 420 and 450 cubic centimeters, which is small when compared with the human brain of about 1200 to 1600 cubic centimeters, they said.

"These fossils give us an extraordinarily detailed look into a new chapter of human evolution ... when hominids made the committed change from dependency on life in the trees to life on the ground," said Berger.

Paul Dirks of James Cook University in Australia, who also worked on the study, said he and a team of researchers from around the world identified the fossils of at least 25 other species of animals in the cave, including saber-toothed cats, a wildcat, a brown hyena, a wild dog, antelopes and a horse.

(Additional reporting by Diana Neille, editing by Alison Williams)

 Homo neanderthalensis: The Neanderthals are an extinct species or subspecies of the genus Homo which is closely related to modern humans. They are known from fossils, dating from the Pleistocene period, which have been found in Europe and parts of western and central Asia. The species is named after the Neanderthal (Neander Valley), the location in Germany where it was first discovered. Neanderthals are classified either as a subspecies of Homo sapiens or as a separate species of the same genus. The first humans with proto-Neanderthal traits are believed to have existed in Europe as early as 600,000–350,000 years ago. Credit:

"Neanderthal skull,
La Chapelle-aux-Saints

"Mounted Neanderthal skeleton, American Museum of Natural History

Range of Homo neanderthalensis. Eastern and northern ranges may extend to include Okladnikov in Altai and Mamotnaia in the Ural Range of Homo neanderthalensis.

 Paranthropus boisei or Australopithecus boisei was an early hominin, described as the largest of the Paranthropus genus (robust australopithecines). It lived in Eastern Africa during the Pleistocene epoch from about 2.3 until about 1.2 million years ago.[1]

First discovered by anthropologist Mary Leakey on July 17, 1959, at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, the well-preserved cranium (nicknamed "Nutcracker Man") was dated to 1.75 million years old and had characteristics distinctive of the robust australopithecines. Mary and her husband Louis Leakey classified the find as Zinjanthropus boisei: "Zinj" for the medieval East African region of Zanj, "anthropus" meaning "man" (human); and "boisei" for Charles Boise, the anthropologists' team’s benefactor.[2]

Paranthropus boisei (as the species was eventually categorized) proved to be a treasure especially when the anthropologists' son Richard Leakey considered it to be the first hominin species to use stone tools. Another skull was unearthed in 1969 by Richard at Koobi Fora near the Lake Turkana region, in Kenya.

 Homo habilis

Homo habilis or "handy-man" is a species of the genus Homo, which lived from approximately 1.4 to 2.33 million years ago, during the Gelasian Pleistocene period.[1] The discovery and description of this species is credited to both Mary and Louis Leakey, who found fossils in Tanzania, East Africa, between 1962 and 1964.[2] Homo habilis (or possibly H. rudolfensis) was the earliest known species of the genus Homo until May 2010, when H. gautengensis was proposed by Darren Curnoe, a species theorized to be even older than H. habilis.[3]

In its appearance and morphology, H. habilis is the least similar to modern humans of all species in the genus (except possibly H. rudolfensis). H. habilis was short and had disproportionately long arms compared to modern humans; however, it had a less protruding face than the australopithecines from which it is thought to have descended. H. habilis had a cranial capacity slightly less than half of the size of modern humans. Despite the ape-like morphology of the bodies, H. habilis remains are often accompanied by primitive stone tools (e.g. Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania and Lake Turkana, Kenya).

Homo habilis has often been thought to be the ancestor of the more gracile and sophisticated Homo ergaster, which in turn gave rise to the more human-appearing species, Homo erectus. Debates continue over whether H. habilis is a direct human ancestor, and whether all of the known fossils are properly attributed to the species. Some paleoanthropologists regard the taxon as invalid, made up of fossil specimens of Australopithecus and Homo.[4] In 2007, new findings suggested that H. habilis and H. erectus coexisted and may be separate lineages from a common ancestor instead of H. erectus being descended from H. habilis.[5]   Credits: Wikipedia

Homo Habilis May Have Been Right Handed October 21, 2016 by (David Fryer)
Homo habilis teeth LAWRENCE, KANSAS—HealthDay News reports that University of Kansas professor emeritus David Frayer has found evidence of right-handedness in a Homo habilis specimen. He and his team conducted experiments to re-create scratch marks similar to the ones found on 1.8-million-year-old Homo habilis teeth found in Tanzania. Most of the marks, located on the lip side of the specimen’s upper front teeth, veer from the left down to the right. The team members suggest that the marks were made when the hominin used a stone tool, held in the right hand, to cut food held with the teeth and the left hand. Frayer explained that Homo habilis was already thought to have had lateralization of the brain, meaning that each side of the brain has functional specializations for tasks such as handedness and language. Further research could show that how the brain is organized may be important in identifying the origins of human ancestors.

 Australopithecus sediba   
Sep 16, 2011    by Staff Writers    Terra Daily    Credit: Peter Schmid.    Munich, Germany (SPX)

  The fossil remains of an adult female right hand bones of Australopithecus sediba rearticulated.    From Malapa, South Africa, include an almost complete right hand in association with the right forelimb bones, in addition to several bones from the left hand.  Hand bones from a single individual with a clear taxonomic affiliation are scarce in the hominin fossil record, which has hampered understanding of the evolution of manipulative abilities in hominins.   An international team of researchers including Tracy Kivell of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany has now published a study that describes the earliest, most complete fossil hominin hand post-dating the appearance of stone tools in the archaeological record, the hand of a 1.98-million-year-old Australopithecus sediba from Malapa, South Africa.

The researchers found that Au. sediba used its hand for arboreal locomotion but was also capable of human-like precision grips, a prerequisite for tool-making.

Furthermore, the Au. sediba hand makes a better candidate for an early tool-making hominin hand than the Homo habilis hand, and may well have been a predecessor from which the later Homo hand evolved.

The extraordinary manipulative skills of the human hand are viewed as a hallmark of humanity. Over the course of human evolution, the hand was freed from the constraints of locomotion and has evolved primarily for manipulation, including tool-use and eventually tool-production.

Understanding this functional evolution has been hindered by the rarity of relatively complete hand skeletons that can be reliably assigned to a given taxon based on a clear association with craniodental fossils.

Tracy Kivell of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany and colleagues from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, Duke University in Durham, USA and the University of Zurich in Zurich, Switzerland, now describe the earliest, most complete fossil hominin hand post-dating the appearance of stone tools in the archaeological record around 2.6 million years ago.

"Almost all other fossil hominin hand bones prior to Neanderthals are isolated bones that are not anatomically associated (i.e., do not belong to the same individual) and are not clearly attributed to a specific hominin species", says Kivell: "The Australopithecus sediba hand thus allows us for the first time prior to Neanderthals to evaluate the functional morphology of the hand overall, rather than just from isolated bones."

The researchers reconstructed the Au. sediba hand, then compared it with other hominin fossils and investigated the presence of several features that have been associated with human-like precision grip and the ability to make stone tools.   They found that Au. sediba has many of these features, including a relatively long thumb compared to the fingers - longer than even that of modern humans - that would facilitate thumb-to-finger precision grips.

Importantly, Au. sediba has more features related to tool-making than the 1.75-million-year-old "OH 7 hand" that was used to originally define the "handy man" species, Homo habilis.

However, Au. sediba also retains morphology that suggests the hand was still capable of powerful flexion needed for climbing in trees.

"Taken together, we conclude that mosaic morphology of Au. sediba had a hand still used for arboreal locomotion but was also capable of human-like precision grips", says Kivell and adds: "In comparison with the hand of Homo habilis, Au. sediba makes a better candidate for an early tool-making hominin hand and the condition from which the later Homo hand evolved."

  Australopithecus sediba:   A 2-million-year old hominid from South Africa had a very unusual diet, an international team of researchers has found. Instead of living on grasses and wild animals from the nearby savannas, like modern humans and pre-humans that have previously been studied, Australopithecus sediba lived on bark, woody tissues, fruits and other plants found almost exclusively in forests, like modern chimpanzees.

That diet may be one reason why the species died out, researchers said.

A. sediba was first discovered in 2008 in a pit at the Malapa Cave about 30 miles north of Johannesburg. Only about 4 feet tall, the creatures had an upright posture, long, gangly limbs, short fingers, a long thumb for gripping and a relatively complex brain compared with earlier species. Uranium dating of sediment covering the fossils places their age at about 2 million years.

A. sediba may have been a descendant of A. africanus, which was in turn a descendant of A. afarensis, a hominid that lived about 3 million years ago and is best known for the specimen known as Lucy. It is not clear if A. sediba is an ancestor of humans or a hominid offshoot that died out -- although the latter possibility seems more likely.

A team led by anthropologist Amanda G. Henry of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Liepzig, Germany, studied the teeth from two A. sediba individuals, using a laser to blast minute amounts of enamel from the teeth for analysis in a mass spectrometer.

That allowed researchers to determine the relative amounts of the stable isotopes carbon-12 and carbon-13 in the tooth enamel that was laid down when the primates were young. Carbon-12 indicates that the hominids ate so-called C3 plants, which are mostly forest foods, such as as leaves and fruits. Carbon-13 indicates that they ate so-called C4 plants, savanna foods such as seeds, roots and grasses.

The team reported online in the journal Nature that they found primarily carbon-13, indicating that A. sediba consumed between 95% and 100% forest-based foods. In contrast, teeth from rodents and hoofed animals from the same region and period indicated that they were consuming mostly plants found on the grasslands.

These findings, the team said, help show why some early species thrived and continued to evolve, while others did not. "We know that if you are a hominid, in order to get to the rest of the world, at some point you must leave the forests, and our ancestors apparently did so," said geochemist Benjamin H. Passey of Johns Hopkins University, a co-author. "The fates of those who did not leave are well known: they are extinct or, like the chimpanzee and gorilla today, are in enormous peril." A. sediba apparently did not leave the forest.

Other evidence the researchers found supports this conclusion. Henry analyzed dental tartar found on the teeth and discovered fossilized particles of plant tissue known as phytoliths. The phytoliths suggest that, in the period before their deaths, the primates "were avoiding the grasses growing in open grasslands that were abundant in the region at the time," Henry said.

Microscopic pits and scratches on the teeth also indicated that at least one of the hominids was eating harder foods, like nuts.

"What fascinates me are that these individuals are oddballs," said co-author Matt Sponheimer of the University of Colorado at Boulder. "I had pretty well convinced myself that, after 4 million years ago, most of our hominid kin had diets that were different from living apes, but now I am not so sure."
Mysterious Chinese Fossils May Be New Human Species

 Homo erectus (meaning "upright man,") is an extinct species of hominin that lived from the end of the Pliocene epoch to the later Pleistocene, with the earliest first fossil evidence dating to around 1.8 million years ago and the most recent to around 300,000 years ago. The species originated in Africa and spread as far as England, Georgia, India, China and Java.

There is still disagreement on the subject of the classification, ancestry, and progeny of H. erectus, with two major alternative classifications: erectus may be another name for Homo ergaster, and therefore the direct ancestor of later hominids such as Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neanderthalensis, and Homo sapiens; or it may be an Asian species distinct from African ergaster.

Some palaeoanthropologists consider H. ergaster to be simply the African variety of H. erectus. This leads to the use of the term "Homo erectus sensu stricto" for the Asian H. Erectus, and "Homo erectus sensu lato" for the larger species comprising both the early African populations (H. ergaster) and the Asian populations.

The first hypothesis is that H. erectus migrated from Africa during the Early Pleistocene, possibly as a result of the operation of the Saharan pump, around 2.0 million years ago, and dispersed throughout much of the Old World. Fossilized remains 1.8 to 1 million years old have been found in Africa (e.g., Lake Turkana and Olduvai Gorge), Georgia, Europe (Spain), Indonesia (e.g., Sangiran in Central Java and Trinil in East Java), Vietnam, China (e.g., Shaanxi) and India.

The second hypothesis is that H. erectus evolved in Eurasia and then migrated to Africa. The species occupied a Caucasus site called Dmanisi, in Georgia, from 1.85 million to 1.77 million years ago, at the same time or slightly before the earliest evidence in Africa. Excavations found 73 stone tools for cutting and chopping and 34 bone fragments from unidentified creatures.

* * * * *
We Didn't Start the Fire... Homo erectus Did
Volume 65 Number 4, July/August 2012
by Zach Zorich

Some paleoanthropologists believe that people have been eating cooked food, and therefore making fires, for millions of years. The evidence for this, so far, has been evolutionary changes in hominin skeletons, such as decreasing tooth and jaw sizes. But there has been very little direct archaeological evidence of fire use prior to 700,000 years ago—until now. Francesco Berna of Boston University and a multinational team of researchers have uncovered evidence that Homo erectus was using fire about one million years ago at Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa.

Using a technique that allows researchers to conduct microscopic analysis of the chemical composition of a sample, Berna was able to identify burned pieces of bone and plant material in the cave's sediments. The sediment came from an excavation unit that is roughly 100 feet inside the cave, which makes it unlikely that the material was burned by a lightning strike or wildfire. According to Berna, learning to use fire was an important turning point for our species—both evolutionarily and culturally. "Control of fire is a tool for adapting to different environments," he says. "It provides warmth, it provides light...and it keeps away wild animals."

* * * * *
Early Homo Erectus Range In China Was Vast

XIAN, CHINA—Scientists in China have analyzed sediments at the Homo erectus site of Shangshazui in northern China, and discovered that members of that extinct human species were living there up to 1.7 million years ago, which is 700,000 years older than previously thought. Paleoanthropologists already knew that H. erectus had migrated to southern China by that time, but the age of the northern site came as a suprise. The discovery means that H. erectus ranged across a much vaster area than anthropologists once believed.

 Australopithecus aethiopicus or Paranthropus aethiopicus is an extinct species of hominid, one of the robust australopithecines.

The first specimen of Australopithecus aethiopicus that was discovered is known as Omo 18. Omo 18, also known as Paraustralopithecus aethiopicus was discovered in southern Ethiopia by French archeologists Camille Arambourg and Yves Coppens in 1967.

Omo 18 serves as a predecessor to KNM-WT 17000, which was discovered by Alan Walker. The finding discovered in 1985 by Alan Walker in West Turkana, Kenya, KNM WT 17000 (known as the "Black Skull" due to the dark coloration of the bone, caused by high levels of manganese), is one of the earliest examples of robust pliocene hominids.   A Key feature of Omo 18 is that it has a v-shaped jaw unlike the other Australopithecus species found. Although, Omo 18 was the first skull discovered of these species, many paleoanthropologists ignored the finding on the basis that it was similar to the other species of australopithecines. Once KNM-WT 17000 was discovered, interest renewed in Omo 18 and it was reclassified.

Description of Australopithecus aethiopicus is categorized into a group known as the robust australopithecines. The robust australopithecines are split into three species, Australopithecus aethiopicus, Australopithecus robustus, and Australopithecus boisei. There has been an ongoing debate over the exact phyletic origins of each of these species. The robust australopithecines share many characteristics of the cranium and mandible, perhaps suggesting a shared evolutionary development. Australopithecus aethiopicus has notable features that differ from the other robust australopithecines, including a larger zygomatic arch, extended ramus, and a more prognathic face. These differences may have been developed during the evolution of aethiopicus, but it may also suggest that A. aethiopicus has a different phylogenetic history than A. robustus and A. boisei.

The skull is dated to 2.5 million years ago, older than the later forms of robust australopithecines. Anthropologists suggest that P. aethiopicus lived between 2.7 and 2.5 million years ago.[1] The features are quite primitive and share many traits with Australopithecus afarensis; thus P. aethiopicus is likely to be a direct descendant. With its face being as prognathic (projecting) as A. afarensis, its brain size was also quite small at 410 cc.[2]

P. aethiopicus was first proposed in 1967 to describe a toothless partial mandible (Omo 18) found in Ethiopia by French paleontologists.[1][2] Lower jaw and teeth fragments have been uncovered. P. aethiopicus had a large sagittal crest and zygomatic arch adapted for heavy chewing (as in gorilla skulls).[2] Not much is known about this species since the best evidence comes from the "Black Skull" and the jaw. There is not enough material to make an assessment to how tall they were, but they may have been as tall as Australopithecus afarensis.[1] Paranthropus aethiopicus is considered a megadont archaic hominin; the term megadont referring to the huge size of the postcanine tooth crowns. The initial discovery was a toothless adult mandible in the Shungura formation of the Omo region of Ethiopia in 1967 (Omo 18.18). The ash layers above and below the fossils give an approximate date of 2.3-2.5 mya. There is only one mostly complete skull for this hominin, so it’s hard to make proper inferences about physical characteristics. However, it can be said that the available skull is similar to P. boisei, although the incisors are larger, the face more prognathic, and the cranial base less flexed.

Home     Back      Top