SHE IS a woman of mystery-small, but unusually clever, perhaps the Dorothy Parker of her day. No one can say precisely when that was, but some time between 100,000 and 800,000 years ago this bulbous-browed young creature lived, or at least died, somewhere in Central Java. Today, all that remains of her is the top of her head, and it's not talking. However, a new study of her brain structure suggests she could have done exactly that when she was alive.
That conclusion alone would be provocative enough, considering the age of this Java Gal-who goes under the prosaic name of SM3. But the real bombshell may lie in a second study that places her about halfway between Homo erectus-our supposedly dim-witted ancient cousins-and modern Homo sapiens. Cries of "missing link" and "smoking gun" have already gone up from a group of evolutionary anthropologists known as "multiregionalists". Unlike most of their peers, they do not accept the "out-of-Africa" theory, which says that our species evolved in Africa and began migrating across Asia and Europe around 100,000 years ago, ousting all other archaic humans as it went. According to the multiregionalists, hominids that started leaving Africa as early as 2 million years ago were never replaced wholesale by more recent migrations. Instead, these far-flung groups of hominids gradually evolved into us. And halfway specimens from places such as Java are just the sort of proof they've been looking for.
"[SM3] shows the clearest evidence of evolving in the direction of Homo sapiens, and so it becomes a powerful refutation of the replacement theory," says leading multiregionalist Milford Wolpoff of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. The findings couldn't have come at a better time for Wolpoff and his minority cause, coming hard on the heels of several offensives the multiregionalists have launched since the beginning of this year. These include the DNA analysis of a 62,000-year-old Australian nicknamed Mungo Man,
Contact: Claire Bowles