Cave woman one million years older than previously thought

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Skull of Australopithecus africanus © Tiia Monto Wikipedia Creative Commons

Geplaatsts door      Alun Harvey

June 2022:- New archaeological and scientific discoveries are constantly extending our knowledge of prehistory and pushing back the earliest known date for humanity’s ancient ancestors.

Fossilised remains of the species Australopithecus africanus,  discovered in the Sterkfontein caves near Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1947 were long thought to be up to 2.6 million years old.  However, modern testing methods now suggest that these early humans are around one million years older, having roamed the earth between 3.4 and 3.7 million years ago.

Previously, the Australopithecus africanus hominids were considered by scientists to be too young to have evolved into homo genus, our ancestors, as that species had already been dated to 2.2 million years ago. These new findings now suggest that Australopithecus africanus had an extra one million years to make that evolutionary leap – making it a possibility that they were indeed ancestors of early humans.

The findings mean that the species existed on Earth at the same time as the ape known as Lucy, whose 3.2 million-year-old remains (belonging to Africa’s Australopithecus afarensis) were long considered to be the species which gave rise to the earliest humans. This updated timeline means that the two species could have interacted and bred, complicating our ideas of early human development. French scientist Laurent Bruxelles, who was part of the study, said “This means that our family tree is “more like a bush”.

According to the Smithsonian Museum, members of the species Australopithecus africanus – which walked on two legs – were much shorter than modern-day humans. Males measured an average 4ft 6in (138cm) in height and females averaged 3ft 9in (115cm).

Text     Alun Harvey

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