Intriguing 1-Million-Year-Old Skull Offers Key Clues To Human Evolution

Intriguing Million-Year-Old Human Skull Offers Key Clues To Our Evolution

Conny Waters – – Archaeologists and paleontologists have recently unearthed an intriguing 1-million-year-old human skull fossil that gives scientists a remarkable opportunity to get more insight into the complex history of human evolution. At a news conference of the National Cultural Heritage Administration in Beijing, scientists said the prehistoric skulls offer a monumental clue in studying the evolution of Homo erectus in East Asia.

Intriguing 1-Million-Year-Old Skull Offers Key Clues To Human Evolution

The skull is still partly buried. Credit: Xinhua

The well-preserved fossil, named No 3 skull of Yunxian Man, was found in an excavation site known as Xuetangliangzi in Yunyang district, Shiyan city, Central China’s Hubei province.

Previous excavations at the Xuetangliangzi site have been a success. To archaeologists and paleontologists, the site is of great importance. The place has been famous ever since the discovery of two hominid crania in 1989 and 1990. The two fossils, dating from 800,000 to 1.1 million years ago, were named by scientists the No 1 and No 2 skulls of Yunxian Man (Yunyang district was then known as Yunxian county). However, the two fossils were found to be severely deformed when unearthed.

“Consequently, the finding of an apparently intact cranium — named the No 3 skull of Yunxian Man — has been met with excitement and a new round of research on the Xuetangliangzi site.

Intriguing Million-Year-Old HUman Skull Offers Key Clues To Our Evolution

“Yunxian Man” No. 3 Skull Fossil (remaining semi-unearthed). Credit: Chutian Metropolis Daily

The skull has not been fully excavated from the ground yet, but the part that has been exposed so far, including the frontal bone, eye sockets and left cheekbone and temporal bone, indicate that the skull’s structure is intact,” China Daily reports.

“No obvious deformation has been found. It is in very good condition and features the typical characteristics of Homo erectus,” Gao said, referring to an extinct species of the human genus that is perhaps an ancestor of modern humans.

Gao also explained that the No 3 skull was buried about 62 centimeters below the ground surface and about 35 meters away from the previous two.

“Their buried environments are similar, and so are the varieties of other unearthed animal bones and lithic (stone) tools,” he said. “Preliminary studies showed that the No 3 skull should belong to the same period of time as the No 1 and No 2.”

If so, the finding could be the best-preserved skull fossil of Homo erectus from around 1 million years ago ever found in the hinterland of the Eurasian region, the researcher said.

However, Gao told China Daily, a rigid dating process is still underway.

Intriguing Million-Year-Old HUman Skull Offers Key Clues To Our Evolution

Photo courtesy of Hubei Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology at Xuetang Liangzi Site

“We’ll use different technical approaches, including geomagnetic, optical and cosmogenic nuclides dating methods,” Gao said. “It will take at least another half a year to make a scientific judgment. Dating will not only focus on the skull, but also spread across the whole site to get a more reliable reference.

“Thanks to more advanced technologies, I hope we can narrow the time span of our speculation this time,” he said.

Intriguing Million-Year-Old HUman Skull Offers Key Clues To Our Evolution

“Yunxian Man” No. 1 Skull Fossil. Credit: Chutian Metropolis Daily

Intriguing Million-Year-Old HUman Skull Offers Key Clues To Our Evolution

“Yunxian Man” No. 2 Skull Fossil. Credit: Chutian Metropolis Daily

Scientists can now rely on new technology that will help them with the dating process and other site research. A great advantage is 3D virtual imaging that can be used to reconstruct the environment in which Yunxian Man lived.

“Traditionally, archaeological fieldwork is irreversible, but thanks to new technology, we want to make part of our working process reversible by working in the digital world,” Gao said.

As reported by China Daily, “all sediments found in the working area will be taken to a lab for long-term studies that will also involve environmental sciences, geology, molecular biology, and other branches of natural science.

See also: More Archaeology News

“Our current findings have shown that human evolution in East Asia was continuous,” Gao said. “The links between Homo erectus and later Homo sapiens are still unclear, but this issue is a key to decoding the origins of modern human beings in East Asia. Indisputably, the skull fossil can provide crucial evidence.”

Written by Conny Waters – Staff Writer

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