An Australian-led team of researches has unearthed the earliest known skull of Homo Erectus. The discovery is significant because it turned out that the newly discovered fossil is about 200,000 years older than the former oldest similar fossil.
According to Prof Andy Herries, lead researcher, the skull was put together from more than 150 fragments, which were discovered at the Drimolen Main Quarry, a few kilometers north of Johannesburg, South Africa.
It is believed that the specimen was probably aged between two and three years old before its demise.
Herries, a geochronologist and head of archaeology at Melbourne’s La Trobe University, is extremely fascinated with the discovery as he can’t “stress how rare it is,” mainly because it’s usually hard to find enough pieces to put together a braincase, especially because juvenile skulls are incredibly fragile.
“It’s so exciting because our fascination with human evolution is because it’s the story of us, and when we go back this far with a discovery like this, it’s the story of every person living on the planet,” Herries said.
He believes that the group this specimen was part of might be the origin of everybody alive today.
Importance of the discovery
However, he also said that though there was a lot of disagreement of opinion in the fields of archaeology and human evolution over the years, one of the reasons why this discovery and Homo erectus, in general, are important is that “this is the beginning of us, this is the beginning of our genus.”
Herries stated that the fragments were found during an excavation trip with Richard Curtis, one of his Ph.D. students, back in 2015.
At first, scientists were happy for the discovery but were skeptical that the skull belonged to a baboon:
“But still, we find a lot of baboons, and that’s what we thought we’d probably found in this case. So it wasn’t until we cleaned the fragments off and my colleagues at the University of Johannesburg started working to put them back together that it was obvious the skull was way too big and round to be a baboon,” Herries said.