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Scientists virtually discover our ancestors' skull

Scientists virtually discover our ancestors’ skull

The discovery of a new fossil can completely transform the way we have thought about human origins. It remains quite a daunting mystery and takes a lot of effort for the paleoanthropologists to find it in a rock or a deep cave after thousands of years.

Scientists have been contemplating and debating for years which early human beings were linked to us and which merely died out on a parallel branch of evolution. According to this, they have believed that our ancestors may have lived in our continent around 260,000 and 350,000 years ago.

ancestors skull

Scientists have now taken a step to re-create fossils that have not yet been found. They have considered the oldest of all Homo sapiens, an elusive ancestor who might have been living in Africa some 300,000 years ago.

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A paleoanthropologist at the French National Museum of Natural History, Aurelien Mounier remarked that it could take years and luck to find the right kind of fossil.

Researchers such as Dr. Mounier use computers and different methods to reconstruct the fossil form they have seen.  On Tuesday, paleoanthropologists at the University of Cambridge in Britain discovered a virtual skull of the last common ancestor of all modern humans who lived in Africa about 300,000 years ago.  Dr. Mounier and Marta Mirazón Lahr made this discovery.  Since Africa is widely regarded to be the foundation of humankind’s existence, many people believe that their early ancestors have diverged from Africa.

The team has nearly made a skull with contemporary components using computers and mathematical methods. The high forehead, flat face, and a rounded scalp are reminiscent of living beings, while the predicted brow-ridge and wide-set eyes are more comparable to archaic hominins.

Indeed, there may never have been such a skull. But the writers claim it is a tentative forecast of what might have looked like the last common ancestor of modern humans.

The model is based on data such as the analysis of several extinct humans from the Late Middle Pleistocene, CT scans of 260 skulls of the inhabitants of African rain-forests to Pacific islands to Greenland. This also included the scanning of skulls from Israel dating back to almost 100,000 years.

“Our findings support a complicated process of sapiens evolution, recognizing distinct populations and lines in Africa–not all of which contributed to the origin of our species,” the writers conclude.

In this situation, the team suggests that the development of contemporary human beings could have taken place in two phases.

First, a diversification period, predating Homo. Sapiens, where distinct early human populations emerge with different characteristics. This was then followed by a second stage comprising of fragmentation and extension, where people were interacting and uniting into new communities.

The writers remark that “our findings indicate that it is unlikely that all local LMP groups would have contributed fairly or at all to the lineage that gave rise to the ancient population of Homo sapiens”.  If there existed in real life a skull-like the one modeled by this team, it could undermine some of the more old school ideas we have about the origins of modern humanity.

 

About the author: Gayathry
Gayathry is a second-year computer science undergraduate from the University of Hyderabad. With various fields of interest from cosmology, neuroscience to neurorobotics, she's also passionate about entrepreneurship.

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