Fossil Man On The Path To Us
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11,500-14,500 -- Extinct Relative Had Sex with Humans Far and Wide
11,500-14,500 -- Mysterious Chinese Fossils May Be New Human Species
800,000 -- Europe's oldest footprints uncovered on English coast
Pre 7.5 ka -- Maghrebi origin of early south Iberian Neolithic
680,000 and 780,000 -- Homo Erectus Invented "Modern" Living?
680,000 and 780,000 -- Peking Man
600,000 and 400,000 -- Homo Heidelbergensis "Heidelberg Man"

 Europe's oldest footprints uncovered on English coast

February 7, 2014     Source: Queen Mary University of London

The earliest human footprints outside of Africa have been uncovered, on the English coast, by a team of scientists led by Queen Mary University of London, the British Museum and the Natural History Museum.

Up to five people left the series of footprints in mud on the bank of an ancient river estuary over 800,000 years ago at Happisburgh in northeast Norfolk.
Dr Simon Lewis from Queen Mary's School of Geography has been helping to piece together the geological puzzle surrounding the discovery -- made in May 2013 -- which is evidence of the first known humans in northern Europe.
Dr Lewis's research into the geology of the site has provided vital information on the sediments in which the prints were found. "My role is to work out the sequence of deposits at the site and how they were laid down. This means I can provide a geological context for the archaeological evidence of human occupation at the site."
The importance of the Happisburgh footprints is highlighted by the rarity of footprints surviving elsewhere. Only those at Laetoli in Tanzania at about 3.5 million years and at Ileret and Koobi Fora in Kenya at about 1.5 million years are older.
A lecturer in physical geography, and co-director of the Happisburgh project (, Dr Lewis added that the chance of encountering footprints such as this was extremely rare; they survived environmental change and the passage of time.
Timing was also crucial as "their location was revealed just at a moment when researchers were there to see it" during a geophysical survey. "Just two weeks later the tide would have eroded the footprints away."
"At first we weren't sure what we were seeing," explains Dr Nick Ashton of the British Museum "but as we removed any remaining beach sand and sponged off the seawater, it was clear that the hollows resembled prints, and that we needed to record the surface as quickly as possible."
Over the next two weeks researchers used photogrammetry, a technique that can stitch together digital photographs to create a permanent record and 3D images of the surface. It was the analysis of these images that confirmed that the elongated hollows were indeed ancient human footprints.
In some cases the heel, arch and even toes could be identified, equating to modern shoes of up to UK size 8. While it is not possible to tell what the makers of these footprints were doing at the time, analysis has suggested that the prints were made from a mix of adults and children.
Their discovery offers researchers an insight into the migration of pre-historic people hundreds of thousands of years ago when Britain was linked by land to continental Europe.
At this time, deer, bison, mammoth, hippo and rhino grazed the river valley at Happisburgh. The land provided a rich array of resources for the early humans with edible plant tubers, seaweed and shellfish nearby, while the grazing herds would have provided meat through hunting or scavenging.
During the past 10 years the sediments at Happisburgh have revealed a series of sites with stone tools and fossil bones; this discovery is from the same deposits.
The findings are published in the science journal PLOS ONE.
The work at Happisburgh forms part of a new major exhibition at the Natural History Museum Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story opening on February 13.

Story Source:
The above story is based on materials provided by Queen Mary University of London. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:
Nick Ashton, Simon G. Lewis, Isabelle De Groote, Sarah M. Duffy, Martin Bates, Richard Bates, Peter Hoare, Mark Lewis, Simon A. Parfitt, Sylvia Peglar, Craig Williams, Chris Stringer. Hominin Footprints from Early Pleistocene Deposits at Happisburgh, UK. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (2): e88329 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0088329

The Neolithic period as a notion is based on an idea of an Old Stone Age (Paleolithic) and New Stone Age (Neolithic).   The definition of Neolithic is now seen as a "package" of characteristics: groundstone tools, rectangular buildings, pottery, people living in settled villages and, most importantly, the production of food by developing a working relationship with animals and plants called domestication.

 Maghrebi origin of early south Iberian Neolithic

Quaternary Research    Volume 77, Issue 2, March 2012, Pages 221–234

The Mesolithic–Neolithic transition in southern Iberia

Miguel Cortés Sánchez et al. 

New data and a review of historiographic information from Neolithic sites of the Malaga and Algarve coasts (southern Iberian Peninsula) and from the Maghreb (North Africa) reveal the existence of a Neolithic settlement at least from 7.5 cal ka BP.  The agricultural and pastoralist food producing economy of that population rapidly replaced the coastal economies of the Mesolithic populations.  The timing of this population and economic turnover coincided with major changes in the continental and marine ecosystems, including upwelling intensity, sea-level changes and increased aridity in the Sahara and along the Iberian coast.  These changes likely impacted the subsistence strategies of the Mesolithic populations along the Iberian seascapes and resulted in abandonments manifested as sedimentary hiatuses in some areas during the Mesolithic–Neolithic transition.  The rapid expansion and area of dispersal of the early Neolithic traits suggest the use of marine technology.  Different evidences for a Maghrebian origin for the first colonists have been summarized.  The recognition of an early North-African Neolithic influence in Southern Iberia and the Maghreb is vital for understanding the appearance and development of the Neolithic in Western Europe.  Our review suggests links between climate change, resource allocation, and population turnover.

 Mysterious Chinese Fossils May Be New Human Species

By Charles Choi Wed, Mar 14, 2012   -- Denisovans (Web)

Mysterious fossils of what may be a previously unknown type of human have been uncovered in caves in China, ones that possess a highly unusual mix of bygone and modern human features, scientists reveal.
Surprisingly, the fossils are only between 11,500 and 14,500 years old. That means they would have shared the landscape with modern humans when China's earliest farmers were first appearing.

"These new fossils might be of a previously unknown species, one that survived until the very end of the ice age around 11,000 years ago," said researcher Darren Curnoe, a palaeoanthropologist at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

"Alternatively, they might represent a very early and previously unknown migration of modern humans out of Africa, a population who may not have contributed genetically to living people," Curnoe added.


The skeletons

At least three fossil specimens were uncovered in 1989 by miners quarrying limestone at Maludong or Red Deer Cave near the city of Mengzi in southwest China. They remained unstudied until 2008. The scientists are calling them the "Red Deer Cave People," because they cooked extinct red deer in their namesake cave. [Photos of the Red Deer Cave People]

"They clearly had a taste for venison, with evidence they cooked these large deer in the cave," Curnoe said.

Carbon dating, a technique that estimates the radioactive decay of carbon in samples of charcoal found with the fossils helped establish their age. The charcoal also showed they knew how to use fire. Stone artifacts found at the Maludong site also suggest they were toolmakers.

A Chinese geologist found a fourth partial skeleton, which looks very similar to the Maludong fossils, in a cave near the village of Longlin in southwest China in 1979 while prospecting the area for oil. It stayed encased in a block of rock neglected in the basement of an archaeological research institute until 2009, when the international team of scientists rediscovered the fossils.

"In 2009, when I was in China working with co-author Professor Ji Xueping, he showed me the block of rock that contained the skull," Curnoe recalled. "After picking my own jaw up from the floor, we decided we had to make the remains a priority of our research."

Jutting jaws and flaring cheeks

The Stone Age fossils are unusual mosaics of modern and archaic human anatomical features, as well as previously unseen characteristics. This makes them difficult to classify as either a new species or an unusual type of modern human.

For instance, the Red Deer Cave people had long, broad and tall frontal lobes like modern humans. These brain lobes are located immediately behind the forehead, and are linked with personality and behavior.

However, the Red Deer Cave people differ from modernHomo sapiens in their prominent brow ridges, thick skull bones, flat upper faces with a broad nose, jutting jaws that lack a humanlike chin, brains moderate in size by ice age human standards, large molar teeth, and primitively short parietal lobes — brain lobes at the top of the head associated with sensory data. "These are primitive features seen in our ancestors hundreds of thousands of years ago," Curnoe said. [Learn About the Human Skeleton]

Unique features of the Red Deer Cave people seen neither in modern nor known archaic lineages of humans include a strongly curved forehead bone, very broad nose and eye sockets, and very flat cheeks that flare widely to the sides to make space for large chewing muscles. In addition, the place where the lower jaw forms a joint with the base of the skull is unusually wide and deep.

All in all, the Red Deer Cave people are the youngest population to be found anywhere in the world whose anatomy does not comfortably fit within the range of modern humans, whether they be modern humans from 150 or 150,000 years ago, the researchers noted.

"In short, they're anatomically unique among all members of the human evolutionary tree," Curnoe told LiveScience.

Mysterious population in Asia

The Red Deer Cave people lived in China at the end of the ice age. "They survived the final and one of the worst cold episodes, known as the Last Glacial Maximum, which ended around 20,000 years ago," Curnoe said.

"The period around 15,000 to 11,000 years ago when they thrived in southwest China is known as the Pleistocene-Holocene transition, and it saw a shift to climates and ecological communities the same as those of today," Curnoe added. "It also saw the demise of the megafaunain most places, including a giant deer that was exploited by the Red Deer Cave people and recovered in large numbers from the Maludong site."

"This time also saw a major shift in the behavior of modern humans in southern China, who began to make pottery for food storage and to gather wild rice — this marks some of the first steps towards full-blown farming," Curnoe said. "The Red Deer Cave people were sharing the landscape with these early pre-farming communities, but we have no idea yet how they may have interacted or whether they competed for resources." [10 Things That Make Humans Special]

Although modern-day Asia contains more than half of the world's population, researchers still know little about humans there after our ancestors settled Eurasia about 70,000 years ago, Curnoe said. No human fossils less than 100,000 years old had been found in mainland East Asia that resembled anything other than anatomically modern humans until now. These new findings are fossil evidence that this region may not have been devoid of our evolutionary cousins.

"The discovery of the Red Deer Cave People opens the next chapter in the latest stage of the human evolutionary story, the Asian chapter," Curnoe said. "It's a story that's just beginning to be told."

Defining a human

A key reason the scientists have not yet decided how to classify the Red Deer People scientifically has to do with one of the major ongoing questions for scientists investigating human evolution — "the lack of a satisfactory biological definition of our own species, Homo sapiens," Curnoe said. "We still don't have one that most of us agree upon."

"I think the evidence is slightly weighted towards the Red Deer Cave people representing a new evolutionary line," Curnoe said. "First, their skulls are anatomically unique — they look very different to all modern humans, whether alive today or in Africa 150,000 years ago. And second, the very fact they persisted until almost 11,000 years ago when we know that very modern-looking people lived at the same time immediately to the east and south suggests they must have been isolated from them. We might infer from this isolation that they either didn't interbreed or did so in a limited way."

Recent findings suggest that other, different evolutionary lines may have also lived in the region, such as the "hobbit" or Homo floresiensis on the island of Flores in Indonesia.

"This paints an amazing picture of diversity, one we had no clue about until this last decade," Curnoe said.

The Red Deer Cave people might possibly even be related to a mysterious branch of humanity known as the Denisovans only discovered in the past two years, whose DNA suggests they were neither like us nor Neanderthals.

"It is certainly possible that the Red Deer Cave people (represent)  an interbreeding event between modern humans and some other population like the Denisovans," Curnoe said.

Ultimately, to see how closely or distantly related the Red Deer Cave people are to modern humans or even the Denisovans, the scientists want to extract and test DNA from the fossils. "We've had one attempt already, but without success," Curnoe said. "We'll just have to wait and see if we're successful in our future work."

The scientists detailed their findings online March 14 in the journal PLoS ONE.

 Extinct Relative Had Sex with Humans Far and Wide
Charles Choi, LiveScience Contributor
Date: 22 September 2011

A molar tooth belonging to a Denisovan, thought to be a new branch of ancient humans.
CREDIT: David Reich et al., Nature.

A mysterious extinct branch of the human family tree that once interbred with ours apparently lived in a vast range from Siberia to Southeast Asia, mating with just as widely spread a group of modern humans, scientists find.

This new research also demonstrates that contrary to the findings of the largest previous genetic studies, modern humans apparently settled Asia in multiple waves of migration, investigators added.

These lost relatives, known as the Denisovans, were discovered from at least 30,000-year-old bones and teeth unearthed in the Siberian Denisova cave in 2008. Analysis of DNA taken from these fossils suggested they shared a common origin with Neanderthals, but were nearly as genetically distinct from Neanderthals as Neanderthals were from living people.

Although we modern humans are the only surviving members of our lineage, other now-extinct human groups once lived alongside our ancestors, including Neanderthals, Denisovans and an as-yet- unnamed lineage recently discovered in Africa. Modern humans even occasionally interbred with these relatives, with estimates suggesting that Neanderthal DNA makes up 1 percent to 4 percent of modern Eurasian genomes and Denisovan DNA 4 percent to 6 percent of modern New Guinean and Bougainville Islander genomes in the islands of Melanesia. [See images of mysterious human ancestor]

Now, using state-of-the-art genome analysis methods, an international team of scientists confirmed that Denisovans must have roamed widely, from Siberia to tropical Southeast Asia. They apparently left a genetic footprint not only in present-day Melanesia, but also in Australia, the Philippines and elsewhere.

"They must have extended over a large geographic range," researcher David Reich, an evolutionary geneticist at Harvard Medical School, told LiveScience. Indeed, these findings suggest "Denisovans were spread more widely geographically and ecologically than any other hominin, with the exception of modern humans," said molecular anthropologist Mark Stoneking at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. (Hominins include those species after the human lineage Homo split from that of chimpanzees.)

Tracing Denisovan genes

The new study was initiated by Stoneking, an expert on genetic variation in Southeast Asia and Oceania who has assembled diverse samples from that region. Stoneking, Reich and their colleagues analyzed DNA from 33 present-day populations in south Asia, Southeast Asia and Oceania, including Borneo, Fiji, Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea and Polynesia.

"Denisovan DNA is like a medical imaging dye that traces a person's blood vessels — it is so recognizable that you can detect even a little bit of it in one individual," Reich said. "In a similar way, we were able to trace Denisovan DNA in the migrations of people."

Their analysis shows that, in addition to Melanesians, Denisovans contributed DNA to Australian aborigines, a Philippine "Negrito" group called Mamanwa, and several other populations in eastern Southeast Asia and Oceania. However, groups in the west or northwest, including other Negrito groups such as the Onge in the Andaman Islands and the Jehai in Malaysia, as well as mainland East Asians, did not interbreed with Denisovans.

Overall, this suggests that Denisovans interbred with modern humans in Southeast Asia at least 44,000 years ago, before the time of the separation of the Australians and New Guineans.

"The fact that Denisovan DNA is present in some aboriginal populations of Southeast Asia but not in others shows that there was a checkerboard of populations with and without Denisovan material more than 44,000 years ago," Stoneking said, adding the discrepancy could be explained if the Denisovans lived in Southeast Asia.

"We often think of population mixtures as a kind of recent phenomenon in human history, such as in the Americas, but what the genetic data is telling us more and more with the Neanderthals and Denisovans is that it happened over many times in history as a common feature of our evolution," Reich said.

"There might be a tendency to think that mating between modern humans and archaic humans such as Neanderthals and Denisovans is a very strange behavior and therefore there must be something unusual or different about populations that engaged in such behavior," Stoneking added. "Instead, I think the picture we are getting from both this work as well as from analyses of genetic data from all modern human populations is that there are two things humans like to do — migrate and mate — and the product of these two is going to be admixture."

"The prediction I would make, which is already largely fulfilled, is that every human population shows signs of admixture, either with other modern human populations and-or with archaic humans, and that this is very normal behavior for humans," Stoneking told LiveScience.

Waves of migration

In addition, the patterns the scientists found can only be explained by at least two waves of migration of modern humans into Asia. The first gave rise to the aboriginal populations that currently live in Southeast Asia and Oceania, and later migrations gave rise to relatives of East Asians who now are the primary population of Southeast Asia.

"This shows the power of sequencing ancient DNA as a tool for understanding human history," Reich said. [History's Most Overlooked Mysteries]

Such findings support the idea of modern humans dispersing eastward to Asia by a southern route through India to Australia and Melanesia. This concept was previously supported by archaeological evidence, but never had strong genetic support until now.

"The archaeological evidence suggested that the first people got to Australia and New Guinea incredibly early, with tools that were less advanced technologically than later seen in the Middle East, Europe and Asia," Reich said. "The genetic work now supports that, showing there were multiple waves of migration to Asia and Oceania, with some quite earlier than others."

The researchers now want to pinpoint the time at which interbreeding with Denisovans occurred, "and to figure out if the genes that modern humans received from Denisovans have contributed anything of importance," Stoneking said.

The scientists detailed their findings online Sept. 22 in the American Journal for Human Genetics.

Follow LiveScience for the latest in science news and discoveries on Twitter @livescience and on Facebook.

   Homo Heidelbergensis ("Heidelberg Man", named after the University of Heidelberg) is an extinct species of the genus Homo which may be[1] the direct ancestor of both Homo neanderthalensis in Europe and Homo sapiens.   The best evidence found for these hominin date between 600,000 and 400,000 years ago.  H.  heidelbergensis stone tool technology was very close to that of the Acheulean tools used by Homo erectus.

Both H.  antecessor and H.  heidelbergensis are likely to be descended from the morphologically very similar Homo ergaster from Africa.  But because H.  heidelbergensis had a larger brain-case — with a typical cranial volume of 1100–1400 cm³ overlapping the 1350 cm³ average of modern humans — and had more advanced tools and behavior, it has been given a separate species classification.  The species was tall, 1.8 m (6 ft) on average, and more muscular than modern humans.  Males may have weighed around 100 kg (220 lb).  According to Professor Lee R.  Berger of the University of Witwatersrand, numerous fossil bones indicate some populations of Heidelbergensis were "giants" routinely over 2.13 m (7 ft) tall and inhabited South Africa between 0.5 million and 300,000 years ago.

In theory recent findings in Atapuerca (Spain) also suggest that H.  heidelbergensis may have been the first species of the Homo genus to bury their dead, even offering gifts.

Some experts believe that H.  Heidelbergensis, like its descendant  H.  neanderthalensis, acquired a primitive form of language.   No forms of art or sophisticated artifacts other than stone tools have been uncovered, although red ochre, a mineral that can be used to create a red pigment which is useful as a paint, has been found at Terra Amata excavations in the south of France.

  Peking Man:   Homo erectus pekinensis, is an example of Homo erectus.  A group of fossil specimens was discovered in 1923–27 during excavations at Zhoukoudian (Chou K'ou-tien) near Beijing (written 'Peking' before the adoption of the Pinyin romanization system), China.  More recently, the finds have been dated from roughly 750,000 years ago,[1] although a new 26Al/10Be dating suggests they may be as much as 680,000–780,000 years old.[2][3]

Peking Man or Beijing Man was a previously unknown type of Prehistoric man discovered by Canadian anatomist Davidson Black in a cave at Zhoukoudian, China in 1927.  Between then and 1937, 14 partial craniums, 11 lower jaws, many teeth, and skeletal bones were found at the site.  It is believed that the cave was home to about 45 individuals.  From extensive studies of the remains made by Black and his predecessor German anatomist Franz Weidenreich, we know that Peking Man stood erect, made stone tools, understood how to use fire, had a heavy brow ridge and large teeth.  In 1941, while being shipped to the United States for safety during World War II, the original fossils disappeared and have yet to be found.  However, casts and descriptions remain and since the end of the war, other Peking Man fossils have been found at the site and at other sites throughout China.

Importance:  Before Black had uncovered Peking Man, many scholars believed that the remains of Java Man were actually the remains of a deformed ape.  The finding of tool usage and fire at Zhoukoudian proved that both Java Man and Peking Man were members of the same broad stage of human evolution and thus filled out the edges of our evolutionary picture
Homo Erectus Invented "Modern" Living?
Archaeologists excavate the Gesher Benot Ya'aqov site in Israel in an undated photo.

Photograph courtesy Gonen Sharon, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Mati Milstein in Tel Aviv, Israel

for National Geographic News

January 12, 2010

It’s long been thought that so-called modern human behavior first arose during the middle Stone Age, in “modern” humans—Homo sapiens.

But a new study suggests modern living may have originated roughly 500,000 years earlier—courtesy of one of our hairy, heavy-browed ancestor species.

At the prehistoric Gesher Benot Ya'aqov site in northern Israel, researchers have found the earliest known evidence of social organization, communication, and divided living and working spaces—all considered hallmarks of modern human behavior.

The former hunter-gatherer encampment dates back as far as 750,000 years ago, and must have been built by Homo erectus or another ancestral human species, archaeologists say. Homo sapiens—our own species—emerged only about a couple hundred thousand years ago, fossil record suggest.

At the site, researchers found artifacts including hand axes, chopping tools, scrapers, hammers and awls, animal bones, and botanical remains buried in distinct areas.

"Different tasks"—from nut processing to seafood preparation—"were taking place in different locations in the site," said archaeologist Naama Goren-Inbar, who led the excavation.

"The modification of basalt tools was done in proximity to the fireplace but, on the other hand, flint [sharpening] was done on the other end of the site in association with where we found a lot of fish teeth," said Goren-Inbar, of Hebrew University's Institute of Archaeology in Mount Scopus, Israel.

Traditionally, the search for the earliest signs of modern human behavior has focused on Homo sapiens sites from the middle Stone Age (roughly 300,000 to 50,000 years ago), due to the preponderance of evidence found at them in the past.

(Related: "Prehistoric Bones Point to First Modern-Human Settlement in Europe.")

Camp Life

Based on their finds and evidence from other sites and groups, the researchers assume there was a division of labor at Gesher Benot Ya'aqov.

A visitor stumbling upon the Gesher Benot Ya'aqov encampment might have found women gathering nuts and processing small animals like fish, crabs, and turtles close to the communal hearth, Goren-Inbar speculated, based on ethnographic analogies and comparisons.

The men would be off hunting or situated in farther corners of the site butchering larger game, including a long-extinct elephant species, she suggests.

Basalt, limestone, and flint toolmaking would also be taking place in various locations around the encampment. And some people would just be chowing down on roasted nuts—still a local staple—or fish.

"One of the highlights of our report is that people ate fish more than 750,000 years ago," Goren-Inbar said.

The encampment, located on an ancient lakeshore, holds some of the earliest evidence of fish eating ever found, according to the study, published in the journal Science. Bones at the site suggest a now extinct, yard-long (meter-long) carp species was a common meal, for example.

Greatest Story Ever Told?

Archaeologist Dani Nadel agrees that the new discovery indicates a surprisingly early emergence of modern human behavior.

"They managed to show that there are certain areas in this site connected to certain activities—an organization of space," said Nadel, of the University of Haifa, was not involved in the Gesher Benot Ya'aqov excavations.

The findings, he said, fit nicely into a regional story of human development emerging from the archaeological record.

At the 1.5-million-year-old Israeli site of Ubeitiya, for example, archaeological evidence indicates inhabitants chose raw materials based on the types of tools they intended to craft—they didn't just pick up the closest rock and start banging at it, Nadel said.

Alternately, evidence of early modern human behavior has also been found at 100,000-, 50,000-, and 23,000-year-old sites around Israel's Mount Carmel and Galilee regions.

Nadel said these sites show a continuous development in every aspect of daily life, from the burial of the dead to the layouts of communities and homes.

"Now we have kitchens and living rooms and bedrooms," Nadel said. "But it all started somewhere in the past."


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