Homo erectus was the first animal to have a similar body structure and behavior to modern humans, but how old our ancient ancestor is has escaped scientists for centuries – until now.
A Homo erectus skull fragment from the 1970s dates back two million years, making it the oldest recorded specimen – the previous one was 1.78 million years old.
Paleoanthropologists at Arizona State University determined the age by radiometric dating of rocks in which it was first discovered in Kenya.
While investigating the scene in Africa, the team also discovered fossilized teeth of other vertebrates, mostly mammals, and gave them a glimpse of the ancient environment where the Home erectus once lived.
Maryse Bierna of Arizona State University said, “Our analysis shows that the environment included many grazing herbivores that preferred to live in open environments such as grasslands.”
“This is the kind of environment we think may have stimulated the development of some of the familiar human-like traits we see in Homo erectus.”
A Homo erectus skull fragment from the 1970s dates back two million years and is considered the oldest specimen – the previous one was 1.78 million years old
The skull bone, called KNM-ER 2598, was discovered in 1974 near Lake Turkana in eastern Turkey, Kenya.
However, this was decades before tracking systems were invented, which is why the researchers put a pen on aerial photos of the excavation sites, according to SYFY WIRE.
When KNM-ER 2598 was first analyzed, some experts speculated that it may have come from a younger Homo erectus.
The bone is “a thick hominin skull fragment that preserves much of the central occipital bone, including parts of the lambdoid suture and a characteristic Homo erectus-like occipital gate,” according to the study published in Nature.
The skull bone, called KNM-ER 2598, was discovered in 1974 near Lake Turkana in eastern Turkey, Kenya. However, this was decades before the invention of the location systems, which is why the researchers provided aerial photos of the excavation sites with a pen
When KNM-ER 2598 was first analyzed, some experts speculated that it may have come from a younger Homo erectus. The bone is a thick hominin skull fragment that preserves much of the central occipital bone
There are a number of known discoveries of Homo erectus throughout history.
The DNH 134 neurocranium from Drimolen, Georgia, was considered the oldest known specimen of Homo erectus 1.78 million years ago.
Although the 1970s researchers marked where the bone was found, the University of Arizona-led team used the Google Earth imager to pinpoint the exact location, as East Turkana is similar to the size of New Jersey in the US and is one Much of the country had changed over time.
Using satellite data and aerial imagery, the team was able to recreate the location of the original location and put it in a larger context to determine the age of the fossils.
Since all of the DNA from these ancient hominins has long since disappeared from Earth, the researchers analyzed the next best thing – rocks and ancient volcanic ash.
The skull specimen was found in a location with no evidence of recent fossil exposure that may have washed up there. However, radiometric dating shows that debris is nearly two million years old.
Within just 50 meters, the team discovered two new specimens, one of which is a foot bone
The other bone is a partial basin. If these bones belong to the same Homo erectus, then they would be the oldest postcranial hominid fossils found on record
The team discovered two new specimens within just 50 meters: a partial basin and a foot bone.
If these bones belong to the same Homo erectus, then they would be the oldest postcranial hominid fossils found on record.
ASU paleoanthropologist Ashley Hammond told SYFY WIRE, “Homo erectus existed for nearly 2 million years and lived alongside several other hominid species at various times.”
“Eastern Turkey is a place where several species of hominids overlap. This field location therefore has the potential to provide more information on how these species coexist sympatric” (in overlapping geographic areas).
EXPLAINED: THE HOMO ERECTUS DEVELOPED 1.9 MILLION YEARS AGO IN AFRICA AND WAS A “GLOBAL TRAVELER”
Homo erectus, which was developed in Africa around 1.9 million years ago, was the first early human species to become true world travelers.
They are known to have emigrated from Africa to Eurasia and spread to Georgia, Sri Lanka, China and Indonesia.
They ranged in size from just under five feet high to over six feet.
With a smaller brain and heavier forehead than modern humans, it is believed that they were an important evolutionary step in our evolution.
It was previously believed that Homo erectus disappeared around 400,000 years ago.
However, this date has been drastically shortened. More recent estimates assume that they only became extinct 140,000 years ago.
They are believed to have spawned a number of different extinct human species, including Homo heidelbergensis and Homo antecessor.
Homo erectus is believed to have lived in hunter-gatherer societies, and there is evidence that they used fire and made basic stone tools.