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17 April 2014 12:48 pm ,
Vol. 344 ,
Officials last week revealed that the U.S. contribution to ITER could cost $3.9 billion by 2034—roughly four times the...
An experimental hepatitis B drug that looked safe in animal trials tragically killed five of 15 patients in 1993. Now,...
Using the two high-quality genomes that exist for Neandertals and Denisovans, researchers find clues to gene activity...
A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that humanity has done little to slow...
Astronomers have discovered an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of a red dwarf—a star cooler than the sun—500...
Three years ago, Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University proposed that a warming Arctic was altering the behavior of the...
- 17 April 2014 12:48 pm , Vol. 344 , #6181
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Were ‘Little People’ the First Out of Africa?
5 July 2002 (All day)
Not long ago, most paleoanthropologists thought that intercontinental travel was reserved for hominids who were long of limb and big of brain. But now researchers have unearthed a skull--the smallest and most primitive hominid skull ever found outside Africa--that appears to bury the notion that big brains spurred our first exodus from that continent.
Until very recently, the fossil evidence suggested that early humans did not journey out of Africa until they could walk long distances and were smart enough to invent sophisticated tools. Then, 2 years ago, a team working at Dmanisi, Georgia, shook up those ideas. It reported finding two small skulls dated to a surprisingly ancient 1.75 million years ago and associated with only primitive stone tools (Science, 12 May 2000, p. 948).
The latest find, described in the 5 July issue of Science, was made by the same team, led by David Lordkipanidze at the Georgian State Museum in Tbilisi, Georgia, and Philip Rightmire of the State University of New York, Binghamton. The researchers classify their find like the other two, as Homo erectus, a long-legged, big-brained species considered to be the first to leave Africa. But some features of the diminutive new skull--the small cranial capacity and the thin but well-developed brow ridges, for example--also resemble H. habilis, an African hominid that some believe was ancestral to H. erectus.
Lordkipanidze and Rightmire suggest that the Dmanisi hominids might be descended from H. habilis–like ancestors that had already left Africa. If so, then soon after our genus arose--and before its members had reached the brain size and stature of H. erectus--it was already pushing into new continents. Such a primitive traveler also raises the heretical possibility that H. erectus itself evolved outside Africa, long considered the cradle of human evolution, notes Tim White of the University of California, Berkeley.
Still, other researchers favor different scenarios, and exactly where the remains fit on the hominid family tree is still a matter of much debate. However, one thing is already clear, says Rightmire: "It wasn't a full-blown Homo erectus and a big brain ... that enabled people to push out of Africa. The first pushing was done by little people."