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Human Facial Features May Have Begun Appearing Earlier Than Thought

A million-year-old skull discovered in east Africa suggests that human facial features began appearing 300,000 years earlier than previously believed, researchers say. The well-preserved fossil, lodged in silt and clay in Eritrea, is the only skull found in Africa from between 1.4 million and 600,000 years ago, and thus fills a gap in the fossil record, an international team reports in today’s Nature.

It combines features of both the human ancestor Homo erectus and modern man, or Homo sapiens, the researchers said. Homo erectus had a flat skull, a sloping forehead and a thicker brow and smaller brain than H. sapiens. The skull unearthed in Eritrea bears some of these primitive characteristics, such as the large brow ridge. But it is like H. sapiens in one important aspect: The skull is widest at a higher point than skulls of H. erectus, which are widest near ear level. That could indicate a larger brain.

Compiled by Times medical writer Thomas H. Maugh II


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