(no subject)

Brooker, Darrin (BROOKERD@CIBC.CA)
Wed, 26 Mar 1997 14:09:00 -0500

News story that came across the wire at work today. May interest

(Updates with comment from other experts)
By Maggie Fox
LONDON, March 26 (Reuter) - Human remains between 270,000 and
300,000 years old found in Kenya push back the era in which "modern"
humans first emerged, a team of international scientists said on
Their findings add to a growing body of evidence that our ancestors
started looking and acting modern much sooner than standard
anthropology teaches, and that several species of pre-humans lived
together at the same time in the past.
Gunter Brauer of the University of Hamburg, Emma Mbua of the
National Museums of Kenya and colleagues at the Natural History Museum
in Paris said the ancient skull and legbone were both from a very
nearly modern human.
"These hominids might represent the oldest near-modern human
specimens from anywhere in the world," they wrote in a letter to the
science journal Nature.
"Our datings and other recent evidence indicate that the
chronological framework of Homo sapiens evolution in Africa needs to
be revised."
"If the dates are true, they are very interesting and tantalising,"
said Leslie Aiello, who teaches human evolution at University College
The cranium and femur were found near Kenya's Lake Turkana, a rich
source of hominid fossils. Using gamma-ray spectrometry, Brauer's
group dated them to 270,000 years old for the skull and 300,000 for
the femur.
This fitted in with the age of the deposits they were found in, the
scientists said. But Chris Stringer of London's Natural History Museum
said the gamma-ray technique was still experimental.
The skull is fairly complete, with all the teeth in the top jaw.
"Our observations indicate that the hominid might represent an archaic
Homo sapiens or a transitional specimen very closely related to modern
humans," Brauer's group wrote.
Stringer said it would have stood like a human, but with primitive
features. "They don't look exactly like us," he said.
"The brow ridge is still very strong...It would have a big face and
flat forehead," he added. "They'd still stand out as being pretty
strongly built by modern standards."
It has been generally accepted that modern humans, Homo sapiens
sapiens (Eds: correct), emerged about 40,000 years ago. Archaic Homo
sapiens, more modern than a Neanderthal but not quite like us, was
believed to have emerged 90,000 years ago.
Homo neanderthalensis, or Neanderthals, lived anywhere between
125,000 and 35,000 years ago, although this is being debated. Before
Neanderthals came Homo erectus, which lived between 1.8 million and
100,000 years ago.
All this is hotly controversial, and Brauer's group proposes moving
the era of origin of early archaic humans back to 500,000-700,000
years ago.
"Early and late archaic Homo sapiens and also the earliest modern
humans seem to have existed considerably earlier than has been
assumed," they wrote.
Last month German scientists said they had found perfectly
preserved 400,000-year-old wooden spears in Europe, much older than
any such tools found before. It had previously been assumed that
humans this old scavenged and were incapable of the organised hunting
that such a find suggested.
They said Homo erectus probably made spears but Aiello said
something like Brauer's early man may have. "I think it would have to
be something like this that threw spears," she said.