Man's earliest direct ancestors looked more apelike than previously believed

Mar 25, 2007
Man's earliest direct ancestors looked more apelike than previously believed
IADR 2007 Conference Poster Dr. Timothy G. Bromage, New York University College of Dentistry, NY 10010, USA. Credit: Timothy G. Bromage

Modern man"s earliest known close ancestor was significantly more apelike than previously believed, a New York University College of Dentistry professor has found.

A computer-generated reconstruction by Dr. Timothy Bromage, a paleoanthropologist and Adjunct Professor of Biomaterials and of Basic Science and Craniofacial Biology, shows a 1.9 million-year-old skull belonging to Homo rudolfensis, the earliest member of the human genus, with a surprisingly small brain and distinctly protruding jaw, features commonly associated with more apelike members of the hominid family living as much as three million years ago.

Dr. Bromage"s findings call into question the extent to which H. rudolfensis differed from earlier, more apelike hominid species. Specifically, he is the first scientist to produce a reconstruction of the skull that questions renowned paleontologist and archeologist Richard Leakey"s depiction of modern man"s earliest direct ancestor as having a vertical facial profile and a relatively large brain – an interpretation widely accepted until now.

Dr. Bromage"s reconstruction also suggests that humans developed a larger brain and more vertical face with a less pronounced jaw and smaller teeth at least 300,000 years later than commonly believed, perhaps as recently as 1.6 million to one million years ago, when two later species, H. ergaster and H. erectus, lived. Dr. Bromage presented his findings today at the annual scientific session of the International Association for Dental Research in New Orleans.

The fragmented skull Dr. Bromage reconstructed was originally discovered in Kenya in 1972 by Dr. Leakey, who reassembled it by hand and dated it at nearly three million years of age, an estimate revised to 1.9 million years by scientists who later discovered problems with the dating.

"Dr. Leakey produced a biased reconstruction based on erroneous preconceived expectations of early human appearance that violated principles of craniofacial development," said Dr. Bromage, whose reconstruction, by contrast, shows a sharply protruding jaw and a brain less than half the size of a modern human"s. These characteristics make the 1.9 million-year-old early human skull more like those of two archaic, apelike hominids, Australopithecus and early Paranthropus, living at least three million and 2.5 million years ago, respectively.

Dr. Bromage developed his reconstruction according to biological principles holding that the eyes, ears, and mouth must be in precise relationship to one another in all mammals.

"Because he did not employ such principles, Dr. Leakey produced a reconstruction that could not have existed in real life," Dr. Bromage concluded.

Source: New York University

Explore further: Scientists discover RNA modifications in some unexpected places

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

NASA HS3 instrument views two dimensions of clouds

1 hour ago

NASA's Cloud Physics Lidar (CPL) instrument, flying aboard an unmanned Global Hawk aircraft in this summer's Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel, or HS3, mission, is studying the changing profile of the atmosphere ...

Recommended for you

Healthy humans make nice homes for viruses

7 hours ago

The same viruses that make us sick can take up residence in and on the human body without provoking a sneeze, cough or other troublesome symptom, according to new research at Washington University School ...

Meteorite that doomed dinosaurs remade forests

10 hours ago

The meteorite impact that spelled doom for the dinosaurs 66 million years ago decimated the evergreens among the flowering plants to a much greater extent than their deciduous peers, according to a study ...

New camera sheds light on mate choice of swordtail fish

11 hours ago

We have all seen a peacock show its extravagant, colorful tail feathers in courtship of a peahen. Now, a group of researchers have used a special camera developed by an engineer at Washington University in ...

User comments : 0