First early human fossil found in Africa makes debut

March 7, 2013
First early human fossil found in Africa makes debut
The Natural History Museum's Broken Hill skull is 'one of the most important relics of human evolution' says human origins expert Chris Stringer. It is on temporary display in the Treasures Cadogan Gallery.

Just over 90 years ago a discovery was made that started a fascinating journey exploring human evolution in Africa. The Broken Hill skull was the first early human fossil to be found in Africa and evidence suggests it probably represents the species that we, Homo sapiens, descended from.

For the first time ever, the skull goes on public display in the 's Treasures Cadogan Gallery.

The skull was found in the Broken Hill mine in Zambia, in 1921. It belongs to the ancient human species . The skull belonged to an adult, probably male, and has a massive brow bridge and large face. It is the finest known example of its kind.

Homo heidelbergensis lived around 600,000 to 250,000 years ago. They were distinctly human in physique and behaviour and evidence suggests these ancient people were accomplished tool makers and could skillfully butcher large animals.

First early human fossil found in Africa makes debut
Homo heidelbergensis reconstruction.

Scientists today know much more about the human family tree than they did in the 1920s. Although other early human fossils had been discovered at that time, such as Neanderthals in Europe and in Asia, the African link at the centre of our own evolution hadn't been established yet.

Chris Stringer with the Broken Hill skull. It belongs to species Homo heidelbergensis, which has also been known as Homo rhodesiensis.

First early human fossil found in Africa makes debut
Chris Stringer with the Broken Hill skull. It belongs to species Homo heidelbergensis, which has also been known as Homo rhodesiensis.

had predicted in the 1870s that humans evolved in Africa because that was where our closest living relatives, the African apes, were. And in the 1980s, the Museum's Chris Stringer was one of the researchers who proposed the Out of Africa model that says all humans living today share a recent African ancestor.

More recent have revealed that and Homo sapiens shared a about 400,000 years ago. Homo heidelbergensis is the likely candidate.

'More than 90 years after its discovery, the Broken Hill skull remains one of the most important relics of human evolution,' says Stringer. 'It is still regularly studied, and I have been collaborating for several years with an international team working on dating it more accurately - we hope to publish our results later this year'.

First early human fossil found in Africa makes debut

'The Broken Hill skull it important because is the most complete and best preserved skull of Homo heidelbergensis, the species that gave rise to our own,' says Museum curator of vertebrates Rob Kruszynski. 'Now on display for the very first time its provides the public with a unique opportunity to see this important specimen'.

The story of continues to gather pace. What is certain is that Homo heidelbergensis and its finest fossil specimen, the Broken Hill skull, will play a central role.

The Broken Hill skull is on display in the free Treasures Cadogan Gallery from today until the end of May.

Explore further: New ancestor? Scientists ponder DNA from Siberia

Related Stories

New ancestor? Scientists ponder DNA from Siberia

March 24, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- An international team of scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig has sequenced ancient mitochondrial DNA from a finger bone found in southern Siberia. The bone is ...

Family tree branches out

May 20, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- UNSW anthropologist Dr Darren Curnoe has identified another new early human ancestor in South Africa ? the earliest recognised species of Homo.

Largest group of fossil humans are Neanderthals after all

June 13, 2012

(Phys.org) -- The world's largest known sample of fossil humans has been classified as the species Homo heidelbergensis but in fact are early Neanderthals, according to a study by Prof Chris Stringer of the Natural History ...

Recommended for you

Early human diet explains our eating habits

August 31, 2015

Much attention is being given to what people ate in the distant past as a guide to what we should eat today. Advocates of the claimed palaeodiet recommend that we should avoid carbohydrates and load our plates with red meat ...

Just how good (or bad) is the fossil record of dinosaurs?

August 28, 2015

Everyone is excited by discoveries of new dinosaurs – or indeed any new fossil species. But a key question for palaeontologists is 'just how good is the fossil record?' Do we know fifty per cent of the species of dinosaurs ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.