Dig Site Yields Clues to Early Human Migration

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Prehistoric tools and ancient skeletal remains found in the Republic of Georgia reinforce that early human ancestors migrated out of Africa, Berkeley scientists concurred last week.

Located on the Black Sea and bordered by Russia and Turkey, the Republic of Georgia is thought to have been a gateway to Eurasia for early humans.

UC Berkeley professors verified that Dmanisi-an ancient skull found at the site-belongs to a 1.7 million-year-old hominid. Carbon dating confirmed the skull as the oldest human ancestor to be unearthed outside of Africa.

An international paleontology team, led by David Lordkipanidze of the Republic of Georgia state museum, discovered the skull.

Lordkipanidze brought casts of his discovery to UC Berkeley this spring. Integrative biology professors Henry Gilbert and Tim White, worked with Clark Howell, a professor emeritus in anthropology to compare the casts with fossils found in Africa by UC Berkeley scientists. They concluded the new findings add credibility to the "out of Africa" theory.

Despite the discovery, scientists have yet to define an exact theory about early human migration patterns.

"(Early Hominid migration) is a question that we are interested in pursuing further," White wrote in an e-mail. "But with only this find in Georgia and some in Java, it is a hard one to answer satisfactorily."

White said the dispersal of hominids throughout the European and Asian continents occurred more than 1.7 million years ago, according to the fossil dates of both the Georgian finds and others. The exact date and time frame of hominid migration still remains in debate.

The age of the newly uncovered fossil also indicates that Homo erectus appears on the evolutionary timeline around two million years ago in an undetermined region. The species rapidly spread across much of the Old World, from Africa to Java, according to Ethiopia Middle Awash, a group of scientists and Berkeley researchers who excavated in Ethiopia.

Though scientists are unable to determine the sex of the hominid from its skull, the fossil is considered smaller than normal, leading them to consider the possibility that the hominid may have been a teenager, White wrote in an e-mail.


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