Fossil to help understand species in transition : Scientists

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New York, Sep 21 (UNI) Four fossil skeletons of early human ancestors discovered in Georgia, the former Soviet republic, could help in the understanding of species in transition, reports said.

The findings will give scientists a revealing glimpse of a species in transition, primitive in its skull and upper body but with more advanced spines and lower limbs for greater mobility, a report in the journal Nature suggested.

The findings, considered a significant step toward understanding who were some of the first ancestors to migrate out of Africa about 1.8 million years ago, may also yield insights into the nature of the first members of the human genus, Homo.

The scientists said the new evidence apparently showed the anatomical capability of this extinct population for long-distance migrations.

''We still don't know exactly what we have got here,'' International Herald Tribune quoted the excavation leader David Lordkipanidze as saying.

Other paleoanthropologists said the discovery could lead to breakthroughs in understanding the critical evolutionary period in which some members of Australopithecus, the genus made famous by the Lucy skeleton, made the transition to Homo. The step may have been taken more than two million years ago.

''The Australopithecus-Homo transition has always been murky,'' a paleoanthropologist at Harvard University Daniel Lieberman said, adding that the new discoveries further highlight ''the transitional and variable nature of early Homo.'' Earlier, the international team led by the director of the Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi Lordkipanidze found several skulls and stone tools at Dmanisi in the 1990s. However, the Dmanisi specimens found recently were quite different. Their brains were closer in size to those of Homo habilis, a poorly understood earlier ancestral species.

Overall, the fossils were ''a surprising mosaic'' of primitive and evolved features. The small body and small craniums and the upper limbs, elbows and shoulders were more like those of the earliest habilis specimens, the scientists said.


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