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Hofmeyr skull supports the 'Out of Africa' theory

This press release is also available in German.

Reliably dated fossils are critical to understanding the course of human evolution. A human skull discovered over fifty years ago near the town of Hofmeyr, in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, is one such fossil. A study by an international team of scientists led by Frederick Grine of the Departments of Anthropology and Anatomical Sciences at Stony Brook University in New York published today in Science magazine has dated the skull to 36,000 years ago. This skull provides critical corroboration of genetic evidence indicating that modern humans originated in sub-Saharan Africa and migrated about this time to colonize the Old World. (Science January 12, 2007)

"The Hofmeyr skull gives us the first insights into the morphology of such a sub-Saharan African population, which means the most recent common ancestor of all of us - wherever we come from," said Grine.

Although the skull was found over half a century ago, its significance became apparent only recently. A new approach to dating developed by Grine team member Richard Bailey and his colleagues at Oxford University allowed them to determined its age at just over 36,000 years ago by measuring the amount of radiation that had been absorbed by sand grains that filled the inside of the skullTMs braincase. At this age, the skull fills a significant void in the human fossil record of sub-Saharan Africa from the period between about 70,000 and 15,000 years ago. During this critical period, the archaeological tradition known as the Later Stone Age, with its sophisticated stone and bone tools and artwork appears in sub-Saharan Africa, and anatomically modern people appear for the first time in Europe and western Asia with the equally complex Upper Paleolithic archeological tradition.

In order to establish the affinities of the Hofmeyr f
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Contact: Dr. Katerina Harvati
harvati@eva.mpg.de
49-341-355-0358
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
12-Jan-2007


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