I just love saying, “Another Homo in the family”! Anyways, it seems like a new species of Homo has been identified from a partial skull found in Sterkfontein Caves, near Johannesburg by anthropologist Dr. Darren Curnoe from University of New South Wales (School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences) and paleoanthropologist Dr. Phillip Tobias. This specimen, known only by its museum catalog name Stw 53, was  found in 1977 and had largely been ignored until Dr. Curnoe restored and reconstructed the skull with Dr. Tobias. They had initially concluded that Stw 53 is a Homo habilis but after years of examination and comparing it with other fossils, they are both confident that Stw 53 is a new species and named it Homo gautengensis.

Side by side comparison. Stw 53 (Homo gautengensis), (left) and KNM ER 1813 (Homo habilis), (right). H. gautengensis photo by Dr. Darren Curnoe and H. habilis photo from Wikipedia.

Dr. Curnoe believe that H. gautengensis predates H. habilis, making it the earliest Homo in our family tree so far. H. gautengensis walked upright in southern Africa about two million years ago until 600,000 years ago. Fully grown, it stood about 3 feet tall (just over 1 meter tall) and weigh about 110 lbs (about 50 kilograms). It has relatively large molars and premolars, which suggest that its diet consist large of plant matter and requires a lot of chewing. There were stone tools found near Stw 53, described as “fairly primitive” by Dr. Curnoe. They are also thought to have the knowledge of fire, perhaps using it to obtain and/or prepare food. Stw 53 was found in the same caves with Australopithecus africanus and Australopithecus robustus (or Paranthropus robustus). However, Dr. Curnoe does not believe that H. gautengensis gave rise to Homo sapiens.


Reference:

Beale B. 2010. New species of human ancestor identified. Retrieved May 21, 2010 http://www.science.unsw.edu.au/news/new-species-of-human/

Originally posted on The Prancing Papio.

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