Toothy tree-swinger may be earliest human

By | May 24, 2010

Image: SkullYour family tree has a new and colorful member, Homo gautengensis, a toothy, plant-chomping, literal tree swinger that was just named the world’s earliest recognized species of human.

The new human, described in a paper accepted for publication in HOMO – Journal of Comparative Human Biology, emerged over 2 million years ago and died out approximately 600,000 years ago. The authors believe it arose earlier than Homo habilis, a.k.a. “Handy Man.”

Darren Curnoe, who led the project, told Discovery News that Homo gautengensis was “small-brained” and “large-toothed.”

Curnoe, an anthropologist at the University of New South Wales School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, said that it was “probably an ecological specialist, consuming more vegetable matter than Homo erectus, Homo sapiens, and probably even Homo habilis. It seems to have produced and used stone tools and may even have made fire,” since there is evidence for burnt animal bones associated with this human’s remains.

Identification of the new human species was based on partial skulls, several jaws, teeth and other bones found at various times at South Africa’s Sterkfontein Caves, near Johannesburg.

Curnoe and colleague Phillip Tobias, who is a South African paleoanthropologist, believe Homo gautengensis stood just over 3 feet (1 meter) tall and weighed about 110 pounds (50 kilograms). It walked on two feet when on the ground, “but probably spent considerable time in trees, perhaps feeding, sleeping and escaping predators,” Curnoe said.

The researchers further believe that it lacked speech and language, skills that help to make humans unique among other animals today. Due to these missing abilities, its anatomy and geological age, the researchers think that it was a close relative of us, but not necessarily our direct ancestor.

The discovery of this new human not only adds to our overall family tree, but it may also lead to a big shake-up. For decades, scientists have been searching for the species that eventually evolved into the first Homo genus member. Earlier this year, it was announced that this “missing link” human may have been unearthed — in the form of Australopithecus sediba. …

via Toothy tree-swinger may be earliest human – Science- msnbc.com.

2 thoughts on “Toothy tree-swinger may be earliest human

  1. Intrachresodist

    I think they need to acquire more data before they can reliably conclude whether Homo gautengensis is our direct ancestor, or A. sediba or some other.

    DNA evidence would be best. In 2007, Rohland and Hofreiter published a method of extracting DNA from ancient bones and teeth but I don’t know to what maximum age the method is valid. In 2000 a paper was published by Kalmar, Bachrati, Marcsik and Rasko which demonstrated on 1200-year-old bones; it’s a far cry from the 2my+ which would be ideal.

  2. Intrachresodist

    Also if they find any leg bones, the joint which goes into the hip will help analysis.

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