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Stunning Skull Gives a Fresh
Portrait of Early Humans
It was the ultimate birthday gift. On his 42nd skeletal bones from at least five individuals
birthday, 5 August 2005, paleoanthropolo- from Dmanisi, a site that preserves the oldgist David Lordkipanidze was presented est human fossils found outside of Africa.
with the most complete early Homo skull These early humans used crude stone tools,
ever found, freshly uncovered at his site of probably for butchering animals, and lived
Dmanisi, Georgia. As paleontologists gently near a river, a busy watering hole, says geobrushed dirt off its face, they saw strange, archaeologist Reid Ferring of the University
primitive features, unexpected in even an of North Texas, Denton. Ferring used argon
early member of our genus: a protruding, isotopes to date the site to 1.77 million to
apelike upper jaw, and a tiny braincase. One 1.85 million years ago, showing that Homo
scientist joked that “you should put it back had expanded into Asia not long after
in the ground,” Lordkipanidze recalls.
the genus appeared in Africa.
Instead, Lordkipanidze and an internaAt that time about 18% of the site’s
tional team spent 8 years studying the fossil, animal bones belonged to carnivores,
which they describe on page 326. Dating back including fierce saber-toothed cats
to about 1.8 million years ago, the spectacu- and an extinct giant cheetah. Conlar skull includes delicate parts of the face, frontations with these beasts would
rare in other finds, making it “the world’s first have been common—and dangercompletely preserved adult hominid skull” ous. All five individuals were found I t a l y
of such antiquity, they write. Combined with in underground dens where carnivores
skulls found earlier at Dmanisi, it also sug- had probably dragged their carcasses.
gests that ancient individuals from the same Ferring thinks the skeletons were all
time and place were very different from each deposited “within a couple centuries, at
other but still members of one species—an most,” after which the dens collapsed.
idea that has implications for the perplexThis carnivores’ cache has proing patchwork of Homo fossils
duced new fossils season after
found in Africa.
season. The massive lower jaw of
The skull “is undoubtedly
the new skull was found back in
one of the most important ever
2000, and Lordkipanidze and othSee slideshow for
discovered,” says paleoanthroers had expected to unearth a huge
images of the new
pologist Ian Tattersall of the skull (
cranium to go with it. Instead they
American Museum of Natural slide_6156).
found the cranium of an older man
History in New York City. “An
with arthritis in his jaw, worn front
iconic fossil,” proclaims Tim White, a paleo- teeth probably used as a gripping tool—and
anthropologist at the University of California, a small brain of only 546 cubic centimeBerkeley. “It will stand out for a long time.”
ters. That’s within range of an earlier human
Over the past 20 years, Lordkipanidze ancestor, Australopithecus, whose brains
and his colleagues have unearthed skulls and averaged 450 cm 3, compared with 1350



VOL 342

Published by AAAS

Putting their heads together. Researchers think that
all five of these skulls from Dmanisi belong in one
species. Skull 5 is on the right.

cm3 for modern humans, notes co-author
Christoph Zollikofer, a neurobiologist at the
University of Zurich in Switzerland. This
confirms that our ancestors didn’t need big
brains to get out of Africa.
When the researchers attached the lower
jaw to the new cranium, designated Skull 5,
the lower face bones jutted out more like an
Australopithecus. “This is, in essence, a very
primitive face,” says co-author Yoel Rak of
Tel Aviv University in Israel.
Yet it’s clearly Homo, many researchers agree. The skull’s vertically oriented
upper face and the shape of the braincase




B l a c k S e a Dmaninsi




Tu r ke y



Mediterranean Sea

distinguish it from Australopithecus. Skeletal bones found with the skulls, including
Skull 5, show that although these humans
were short in stature, they had modern body
proportions and could walk long distances
(Science, 21 September 2007, p. 1664).
But what species of Homo is it? Some
fossils previously discovered at Dmanisi
seemed to have links to H. erectus. But when
the big lower jaw was found in 2000, some
researchers suggested it belonged to a new
species they called Homo georgicus.
With the discovery of the new, fifth skull,

18 OCTOBER 2013


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then both at the essential: motion.S. Karplus was deeply All three of this year’s enmeshed in the second chemistry laureates are natapproach to simulation. LINDA A. Ponce de León says. citizens. also showed that the skulls were as variable as African fossils traditionally classified in three different species—H. USC PHOTO/MIRA ZIMET.the researchers had to confront head-on the variation among all five.3million-year-old jaw from Ethiopia tentatively assigned to H. treated mole. vard. Levitt and Warshel. ulate proteins and other large molecules. the three pio. at Harperform it. H.. 1969.izen. this skull and the others from Dmanisi are some of the best evidence we have about how. they could have been called separate species. a young female. U. Spoor agrees that it is a “fantastic. The team concluded that all five skulls belong to a single. But it was so comjust before the outbreak of putationally demanding World War II. But Skull 5 also shares key features with H. erectus. MICHAEL LEVITT ARIEH WARSHEL MARTIN KARPLUS teins and other compounds Meanwhile. and why humans evolved. Whatever Skull 5’s specific identity. rudolfensis. habilis. often of Southern California in Los Angeles was bers of atoms.. thinks it “sensible” to call Skull 5 H. uralized classical Newtonian physics. trons and atomic nuclei breaking and fusing neered new tools for fusing two disparate Israel. quantum and classical CHEMISTRY 298 18 OCTOBER 2013 VOL 342 SCIENCE Published by AAAS www. If the Dmanisi fossils had been found in separate places in Africa. and an adolescent of unknown sex. says co-author Philip Rightmire of Harvard University. they leave out something and still holds Israeli citizenship. Useful as born in 1940 in Kibbutz Sde-Nahum. This broad sample from one place and a short span of time is what makes Dmanisi an “exceptional site. Palo Alto. erectus. single lineage. terrific specimen. the researchers found that the range of variation in the group at Dmanisi was no greater than within living humans or chimps. Age and sex probably account for much of it: The skulls are thought to have belonged to an elderly toothless male. when. That dance world views among chemists working to puter model that could track how proteins is the heart of chemistry. too. variable species Putting all five skulls into a single species still left the problem of what to call it. erectus. and that Skull 5 represents a new species. counters that Skull 5 “looks to me like Homo habilis. By analyzing the skull shapes with 3D computer-based methods.” –ANN GIBBONS PRIZES Molecule and Market Studies Capture Nobel Laurels A Prize for Molecular Modeling and today is a British. done by Zollikofer and his Zurich colleague Marcia Ponce de León.S. such as thick brow ridges. was Trying to bring the NOBEL PRIZE 201 2013 born in Pretoria in 1947. California. Paleoanthropologist Ron Clarke of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. CREDITS: (TOP) JAY MATTERNES. Marcalled quantum chemtin Karplus of Harvard Uniistry. it enabled researchers to simpared down to a few lines on paper.” And while paleontologist Fred Spoor of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. and H. erectus suggests that the early Homo fossils in Africa may also belong to that same. Looking at particular springlike bonds. Tattersall thinks Dmanisi could include more than one species. The team squabbled at first. he balks at the notion that fossils in Africa all belong in H. That controversial idea is setting off a small “bomb” in the field. two mature males.Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot. and Israeli cit. One of them. habilis. © THE NOBEL FOUNDATION NEWS&ANALYSIS . Because this approach You’ve seen the models—molecules rep. erectus. erectus.” White says. But they all prefer to call their finds “early Homo. where. In they are to chemists. South Africa. they found that the upper jaw of Skull 5 most closely resembles the oldest fossil proposed as Homo—a 2. Lumping them all into H. But it couldn’t calculate the changes based scientists for developing computer cules as collections of atomic balls connected in energy involved when chemicals react and models that reveal how proform new molecules. nizes the skull as an earlier Georgian form of H. It was far better at versity and the University simulating the motion of of Strasbourg in France was the electrons and atomic born in 1930 in Vienna and nuclei involved in reacmoved to the United States tions. (BOTTOM LEFT TO RIGHT) STEPHANIE MITCHELL/HARVARD STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER.S. designed a ball-and-spring combonds as they undergo reactions.” Says White: “No matter what you call it. CICERO/STANFORD NEWS SERVICE. In the end.twist. grounded and other large biomolecules oscillate and Prize in chemistry was awarded to three U. the team settled on the cumbersome moniker of Homo erectus ergaster georgicus.sciencemag. Last week’s Nobel simulate molecules. Germany. This artist’s reconstruction shows the new skull’s small brain and protruding jaw. Michael Levthat it was useful only in itt of Stanford Universisolving the behavior of ty’s School of Medicine in small molecules.” The skull shape analysis and classical trait analysis. arguing that the team’s analyses can’t delineate diagnostic differences in skull shape. which recog- Lowbrow. And Arieh Warshel of the University was mathematically tractable for large numresented as balls connected by sticks. the intricate dance of elecMore than 40 years ago.