Early humans were "Westward Ho," dental records reveal

June 5, 2014 by James Devitt

Early humans, or hominins, stretched further west—into today's Central Africa—than previously known, according to findings by a research team that included NYU anthropologist Shara Bailey.

The results, which appeared in the journal PLOS ONE, expand the range of early hominins significantly farther west and suggest that they made use of a wide range of geographic locations and likely ecological conditions. They also reveal a need for a shift in our paradigm about where to search for early hominins.

"While the eastern branch of the Rift Valley is an important place for early human evolution, this find suggests additional results may come from farther west than we once thought," says Bailey.

The team's conclusions are based on the discovery of a molar in the western, or Albertine, branch of the East African Rift, which had previously yielded several discoveries of more recent fossil humans.

The tooth was originally unearthed in the 1950s in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. But its age had not been confirmed. Moreover, previous scholarship had limited early hominins to the Rift Valley's eastern branch—a few hundred miles separate the eastern and western branches—with the assumption that this discovery was of a more recent fossil human.

Advances in technology helped prompt the researchers to more closely examine the 60-year-old find.

Bailey, whose expertise centers on teeth, conducted a comparative analysis of the molar with those from early hominins discovered in other regions. She focused on its enamel surface while Matthew Skinner, an at University College London, examined its underlying structure.

Their analysis revealed a remarkable consistency in dimensions and enamel thickness with previously discovered molars of east and southern African early . Moreover, the structure was quite distinct from the teeth of Homo sapiens—modern humans.

Explore further: Breeding with Neanderthals appears to have helped early humans fight disease

Related Stories

Geologists correct a rift in Africa

March 26, 2012

The huge changes in the Earth's crust that influenced human evolution are being redefined, according to research published today in Nature Geoscience.

Recommended for you

Biologists trace how human innovation impacts tool evolution

November 24, 2015

Many animals exhibit learned behaviors, but humans are unique in their capacity to build on existing knowledge to make new innovations. Understanding the patterns of how new generations of tools emerged in prehistoric societies, ...

First Londoners were multi-ethnic mix: museum

November 23, 2015

A DNA analysis of four ancient Roman skeletons found in London shows the first inhabitants of the city were a multi-ethnic mix similar to contemporary Londoners, the Museum of London said on Monday.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (2) Jun 05, 2014
The 'aquatic ape' hypothesis for human evolution (from hominins) requires a substantial but shallow body of water not unlike paleolake Mega-Chad. If the shores of this lake had been habitable to hominins and early humans, their range would have included significant areas of west Africa.
5 / 5 (3) Jun 05, 2014
@tadchem: The 'aquatic ape' hypothesis is unanimously rejected by paleonthologists. It didn't work.

- "A one-word summary of the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis: Rubbish." [ Brian Switek, paleontologist; http://www.wired....othesis/ ]

- "In all, Morgan's work seem to be lacking of any rigorous research or hypotheses, and it led me to wonder why the AAH will simply not go away. Perhaps some of it is the mental appeal and the common error of linking correlation in evolutionary convergence to causation, working backwards to whatever ideal we hold most dear." [ Switek; http://laelaps.wo...othesis/ ]

- "It has surprising longevity for something that has no real evidence to support it:" [Alison Campbell; http://sci.waikat...ng.shtml ]
5 / 5 (2) Jun 05, 2014
- "In other words, the Aquatic Ape Theory explains all of these features, but it explains them all twice. Every one of the features encompassed by the theory still requires a reason for it to be maintained after hominids left the aquatic environment. Every one of these reasons probably would be sufficient to explain the evolution of the traits in the absence of the aquatic environment. This is more than unparsimonious. It leaves the Aquatic Ape Theory explaining nothing whatsoever about the evolution of the hominids. This is why professional anthropologists reject the theory, even if they haven't fully thought through the logic."

[Paleonthologist extraordinare John Hawks; http://johnhawks....ory.html ]
5 / 5 (1) Jun 05, 2014
"The proposal itself has been criticized by experts as being internally inconsistent, having less explanatory power than its proponents claim, and suffering from the feature that alternative terrestrial hypotheses are much better supported. The attractiveness of believing in simplistic single-cause explanations over the much more complex, but better-supported models with multiple causality has been cited as a primary reason for the popularity of the idea with non-experts.[3]"

[ http://en.wikiped...pothesis ]

Can we now get away from the rubbish and look at what the science says?
1 / 5 (2) Jun 06, 2014
Science says it happened to whales.
Science says it happened to elephants.
So why would it be such a stretch to say we may have been semi aquatic at some point in our development.
And there is this new evidence I found on your links.
5 / 5 (1) Jun 06, 2014
Whales had 50+ million years to evolve. That elephants had a semi-aquatic ancestor rests on weak evidence.
not rated yet Jun 06, 2014
That evidence keeps building up so it does not look so weak any more
Looks like we have been evolving for quite some time ourselves
You might even say our past is pretty fishy

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.