Another Homo in the family!

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.

7 thoughts on “Another Homo in the family!

  1. Clearly, the recent trend in Paleoanthropology is to claim a discovery of new species of our ancestors. However, STW 53 seems too incomplete to make such a big claim?

    1. Right. Variation should be taken into consideration when comparing fossils, especially when you only have one specimen (partial skull to say the least). However, I think in the academic/science circle, it is always a race to be the first to publish so that you get the credit for the years to come. So without a doubt, we will always see claims of “new species” or worse “missing link”.

  2. I wouldn’t call it a recent trend antrhopogentetics. From at least Piltdown forward it seems to be the way of things. The problem may have been exacerbated with the onset of goverment and other funding sources that highly prize the “missing link” approach to paleoanthropology. After the tenth habilene the money start to dry-up because no one wants to pay for more or better information on what we think we already know. On-the-other-hand these people are highly trained, the conflict between genetics and morphology aside, the debate has driven the question of defining species possibly more than any other.

  3. i lolled a bit at ‘in the same cave’. agree that the missing link and new species effects are obviously overrated. i think genetic and sexual variance has usually been greater then we tend to get scientifically clear. so i throw it on the increasing nr of finds of a few rare and old species. on a sidenote morphologic variance between the two sexes in fact is still greater then what anthropological research appears to regard as standard. it’s just not allways (..)

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