Infant jawbone confirms the emergence of Homo erectus two million years ago

Archaeological excavation in Melka kunture / Joaquín Panera
Archaeological excavation in Melka kunture / Joaquín Panera
  • Research at the Ethiopian site of Garba IV, in the archaeological area of Melka Kunture, in which the Universidad Complutense de Madrid participates, constitutes one of the oldest fossils attributed to this species and is the one with the most diagnostic evidence.
  • The bone remains, described in Science, appear together with lithic tools elaborated with Olduvayense technology, characterized by small-sized lithic tools, the first technology developed by mankind, which allows corroborating for the first time that Homo erectus used this technology.

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UCC-UCM, October 12, 2023. The research of an international team involving the Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM) and the University of Vigo at the Garba IV site of Melka Kunture (Ethiopia), has allowed to attribute an infant jaw to Homo erectus, being the human fossil that presents more evidence to indicate that this species made its appearance in the evolutionary scenario two million years ago.

Melka Kunture, Yac. where a paleosurface with lithic tools and faunal remains preserved in situ are on display.

The study led by Italian researcher Margherita Mussi, which has just been published in Science, also points out that this is the first time that human remains of this species appear together with lithic tools made with Olduvayan technology, the first technology of mankind and the one used exclusively by the first representative of the genus Homo, Homo habilis.

The professors of the Department of Prehistory, Ancient History and Archaeology of the UCM, Joaquín Panera and Susana Rubio Jara, have participated in the study of the archaeological remains of Melka Kunture, as well as in the analysis of the implications that the findings described in this work have for the understanding of human origins.

For the analysis of the infant mandible, synchrotron computed tomography and 3D geometric morphometry were used to analyze. "The finding is the only one of the first Homo erectus fossils whose taxonomic identification is based on the dentition, which is the anatomical part of mammals that best allows us to identify species," notes Joaquín Panera.

Advances in Acheulean technology and paleoecological reconstruction

At the Garba IV site, the oldest tools made with Acheulean technology have also been found, dating back some 1.95 million years, which implies some 200,000 years before what has been considered to date, making it practically coincident with the appearance of Homo erectus on the evolutionary scene, which is of great importance for the understanding of human evolution. In addition, at the same site, the oldest evidence of lithic tools made with Acheulean technology, characterized by the presence of lithic hand axes, has been found "Acheulean technology, which among other aspects is characterized by the elaboration of lithic hand axes, has lasted in the archaeological record for 1.8 million years, and from Africa it has expanded to the Americas.frica has spread to Southeast Asia and part of Europe, making it the most universal technology of mankind, in terms of its duration and geographical distribution", emphasizes Susana Rubio-Jara.

The study of the lithic technology used by Homo erectus at the Garba IV site was developed from the analysis of the remains found in the different archaeological levels, which have allowed us to understand the evolution of the technological variations used in the elaboration of lithic tools between the Olduvaynse and the Achelense, "one of the major pending questions in the study of human evolution".

Geographical location of Melka Kunture

The hominin fossil record is dominated by discoveries made at low and middle elevations of the Rift Valley, i.e., up to 1500 meters above sea level, and in the cave deposits of South Africa. The fossil and archaeological remains from Melka Kunture, at over 2000 meters, demonstrate that the East African highlands, with a different paleoenvironment, are fundamental to understanding the behavior of early humans sensu stricto.

For the paleoecological reconstruction, the different species of the bone remains found in these sites have been identified, from which the ecosystems to which they are adapted have been inferred, information that has been completed with isotopic analysis of 14 fossil teeth, and with palynological analysis.

"This work, which has been funded by the Palarq Foundation, provides a basis for future research on human origins and their adaptation to high altitudes and the evolution of lithic technology," concludes Panera.

Bibliographic reference: Margherita Mussi, Matthew M. Skinner, Rita T. Melis, Joaquín Panera, Susana Rubio Jara, Thomas W. Davies, Denis Geraads, Hervé Bocherens, Giuseppe Briatico, Adeline Le Cabec, Jean-Jacques Hublin, Agness Gidna, Raymonde Bonnefille, Luca Di Bianco, Eduardo Méndez-Quintas (2023). "Early Homo erectus lived at high altitudes and produced both Oldowan and Acheulean tools". Science.

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