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Earth Science

1.8 Million-Year-Old Skull Suggests Three Early Human Species Were One 168 168

ananyo writes "A 1.8 million-year-old human skull dramatically simplifies the textbook story of human evolution, suggesting what were thought to be three distinct species of early human (Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis and Homo erectus) was just one. 'Skull 5', along with four other skulls from the same excavation site at Dmanisi, Georgia, also shows that early humans were as physically diverse as we are today (paper abstract)."
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1.8 Million-Year-Old Skull Suggests Three Early Human Species Were One

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  • Re:Maybe an anomaly (Score:5, Informative)

    by Patch86 (1465427) on Saturday October 19, 2013 @07:53AM (#45173663)

    That's pretty much the problem for the whole field. There are so few complete specimens (we're talking dozens, rather than hundreds) and they're generally so diverse geographically and chronologically that is becomes very difficult to say whether something was "species wide" or just individual variance. So you find a 4 foot tall skeleton on an island and you might be tempted to say "I've found a new miniature-species of human!", conveniently forgetting the fact that you only have one skeleton and dwarfism is a relatively common feature of the only human population we have a good sample of (modern us). That skeleton could have been the only 4 foot tall adult within a 100 mile and 100 year radius, and yet there's no way of telling unless you can find more specimens that agree or disagree. And those specimens may simply not exist to be found.

    I've always found fields like archaeology & palaeontology particularly fascinating for this reason. It's one of the few areas of science where there will be some things that simply CANNOT be known, because no evidence has survived of it and we can't ever study the past directly. It is one of the only areas of modern study where there is a real sense of mystery that will never and can never be lifted. Every little discovery we make is like finding a single piece of a 100 million piece jigsaw- you learn something, but the balance of things not known is still colossal.

  • Offspring of a mule (Score:4, Informative)

    by gd2shoe (747932) on Saturday October 19, 2013 @08:33AM (#45173755) Journal

    We like to think that it's clear-cut. When it's not, we quibble over just how to redefine "clear-cut".

    It seems we may be at the very tail end of Horse/Donkey differentiation.

    (Yes this is an assumption on my part, but I doubt there's good reason to think otherwise. A case to demonstrate this for more than two generations is probably too statistically unlikely to ask for. It might conceivably be possible to get Donkey genes into the Horse population with a couple of really lucky generations. IANAG)

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