250,000-yr-old skull unearthed
Scientists in northeastern Ethiopia said that they have discovered a hominid skull that could be a missing link between Homo erectus and modern man.
The hominid cranium — found in two pieces and believed to be between 500,000 and 250,000 years old — "comes from a very significant period and is very close to the appearance of the anatomically modern human," said Sileshi Semaw, director of the Gona Palaeoanthropological Research Project in Ethiopia.
Archaeologists found the cranium at Gawis, in Ethiopia's northeastern Afar region, five weeks ago, Sileshi said on Saturday.
Sileshi, an Ethiopian palaeoanthropologist based at Indiana University in the US, said most fossil hominids are found in pieces but the near-complete skull — a rare find — provided a wealth of information.
"The Gawis cranium provide us with the opportunity to look at the face of one of our ancestors," the archaeology project said in a statement. "Additionally, this fossil links us with the past by showing a face that is recognizably different and more primitive than ours."
The cranium dates to a time of transition from African Homo erectus to modern humans about which little is known. The fossil record from Africa for this period is sparse and most of the specimens poorly dated, project archaeologists said.
The face and cranium of the fossil are recognisably different from that of modern humans, but it bears unmistakable anatomical evidence that it belongs to the modern human's ancestry, Sileshi said.