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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
- About Us
Early Human Species May Have Coexisted With Our Own
12 December 1996 8:20 pm
The thought of another human species coexisting with our own seems rather, well, alien. But this may have been the case a mere 27,000 to 53,000 years ago. A report in tomorrow's issue of Science suggests that Homo erectus, a relative of modern humans, was still alive in Java, Indonesia, at least 250,000 years after it was thought to have gone extinct in Asia. If so, this remnant population of H. erectus, a species that first appeared in the fossil record about 2 million years ago, would have been alive when modern humans and Neandertals roamed the Earth.
A team led by Carl C. Swisher of the Berkeley Geochronology Center came to this stunning conclusion after using argon-based radioactive dating techniques to redate two important fossil sites in Java where H. erectus had been found. "If the dates are right, we have three different species coexisting at the same time," says Chris Stringer, a paleoanthropologist at The Natural History Museum, London. It also means, says American Museum of Natural History paleoanthropologist Ian Tattersall, that "being alone on Earth is unusual."
The new dates also cast doubt on a theory, held by some paleoanthropologists, that the Java people were the ancestors of the first Asians, including the first Australians, who appeared in the fossil record about 40,000 years ago. It's therefore no surprise that these findings are proving controversial. "There is a real problem with the dates," claims Australian National University paleoanthropologist Alan Thorne, who points out that the site is notoriously difficult to date, and that the crucial human fossils were removed from the site decades ago. And even if the dates hold up, he and others argue, they wouldn't necessarily rule out the Java-Australian lineage.
Swisher, however, is confident of the findings, which come mainly from dating of ungulate teeth taken from a fossil site on a terrace above the Solo River in Java, in the village of Ngandong. "We have two options: Sit on our data, or say that we've done the best we can with the technology available to us and throw them out there for people to evaluate," he says. Given the startling nature of the data, there will be no shortage of evaluators.