African Origins

The first attempt to relate the fossil hominids of Asia to those of Africa was a study by Ralph von Koenigswald and Phillip Tobias,4 a former student of Raymond Dart at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa. Von Koenigswald, who after World War II became a professor at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, brought to the table his fossils from Java, then assigned to Homo erectus and Homo modjokertensis. For comparison

Tobias brought from Olduvai Gorge fossils that he, Louis Leakey, and John Napier had recently named Homo habilis. They concluded that there were significant anatomical similarities between the two groups of fossils and they postulated a close evolutionary relationship. Their conclusions were prescient but they could not be supported by firm data until later fossil discoveries—some of which have occurred as recently as the last several years—clarified the relationships.

Homo habilis first became much better known through fossils discovered in a region seven hundred miles north of Olduvai Gorge, the Lake Turkana basin of southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya. One of us (N. T. B.) with F. Clark Howell discovered a partial skull with teeth dating to two million years ago in the Omo deposits; we recognized this fossil as the first Homo habilis found outside Olduvai Gorge.5 Richard Leakey and his colleagues discovered more complete skulls of early Homo (though most of the first ones were without teeth) in the nearby East Turkana (then Rudolf) deposits. Specialists still disagree on whether all of this assemblage of early Homo represents one, two, three, or even four species. Boaz and his colleagues studied this assemblage of early Homo and considered the evolution of Homo habilis to early Homo erectus a good example of the gradual mode of change.6 Phillip Tobias, who later wrote a monograph on Homo habilis rivaling Weidenreich's on Homo erectus, has a similar interpretation.7 The Turkana hominids became the most firmly dated and best-documented assemblage of fossils for the evolutionary transition of Homo habilis to Homo erectus.8 At Turkana the first Homo fossils are present at 2.4 million years ago, their earliest dated appearance on earth.

In Asia further discoveries of Homo erectus were made in Java,9 and von Koenigswald's old site of Perning, which yielded the Mojokerto skull of early Homo,10 was redated to 1.8 million years ago.11 The earliest early Homo so far found in mainland Asia was dated by Chinese colleagues and one of us (R. L. C.) at the site of Longgupo, China, to 1.9 million years ago.12 Its full significance is yet unclear since it is only a partial mandible with teeth, but it documents the presence in China of Homo before the time of Homo erectus. What the Longgupo early Homo population very likely looked like was dramatically revealed by discoveries at Dmanisi, Republic of Georgia, three thousand miles to the west.13 This site has now yielded several mandibles and three partial skulls of early Homo, dated to 1.7 million years ago. The skulls are nearly the same age and have very similar anatomy to one of the skulls from Turkana (ER 1813), eight thousand miles to the south. We consider Dmanisi to be Homo erectus ergaster, and ER 1813 to be Homo habilis. The early African Homo erectus has also been assigned by some to Homo ergaster, a species name created by anthro-

Image Tabon Man

Chinese Homo erectus showed close anatomical similarities to, and was closely related to, Homo erectus in Java. This is a photograph of the most complete specimen of the species from Java, Sangiran 17. This skull is dated by radiometric methods to 1.25 million years ago, about twice the age of the oldest Longgushan Homo erectus.

Chinese Homo erectus showed close anatomical similarities to, and was closely related to, Homo erectus in Java. This is a photograph of the most complete specimen of the species from Java, Sangiran 17. This skull is dated by radiometric methods to 1.25 million years ago, about twice the age of the oldest Longgushan Homo erectus.

pologists Colin Groves and V. Mazak in 1975 for an early Homo mandible from Kenya (ER 992).14

If our reading of the fossil record is correct, then earliest Homo erectus (subspecies ergaster) can be established as being present in both Africa and Eurasia by approximately 1.7 million years ago. Its immediate ancestor seems to have been Homo habilis dating to about 2.4 million years ago and only in Africa. But where did this hominid population come from? We believe that the answer is unequivocally from the African genus Australopithecus, discovered by Raymond Dart in South Africa in 1924, just three years after the first teeth of Peking Man had been dug out of Dragon Bone Hill. Whether the ancestral population was Australopithecus africanus, Dart's originally proposed species, or another of several more recently discovered australopithecines, remains to be seen. But there is no fossil evidence (even though there are plenty of fossil sites) and little probability of an ancestral source for the genus Homo in Eurasia prior to two million years ago. Peking Man and other Eurasian early Homo populations ultimately derive from Africa.

Fossil Record Peking Man

The first Homo erectus immigrant to Eurasia. A recently discovered fossil skull (left) of Homo erectus from the site of Dmanisi, Georgia (specimen number D2700) is the earliest record of the species outside Africa. Dated to approximately 1.7 million years ago, populations similar to those at Dmanisi were likely ancestral to later, Chinese Homo erectus at Longgushan. Dmanisi in turn was likely descended from African Homo habilis, represented by such fossil specimens as ER 1813 (right) from east of Lake Turkana, Kenya.

The first Homo erectus immigrant to Eurasia. A recently discovered fossil skull (left) of Homo erectus from the site of Dmanisi, Georgia (specimen number D2700) is the earliest record of the species outside Africa. Dated to approximately 1.7 million years ago, populations similar to those at Dmanisi were likely ancestral to later, Chinese Homo erectus at Longgushan. Dmanisi in turn was likely descended from African Homo habilis, represented by such fossil specimens as ER 1813 (right) from east of Lake Turkana, Kenya.

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