Excavations in Eritrea in north-east Africa have unearthed the earliest human remains to display any specific Homo sapiens' characteristics.
The find - a skull dating from 1 million years ago - appears to be from the crucial, hitherto undiscovered, evolutionary phase in which our ape-man ancestors developed into an ancestral version of Homo sapiens.
The early date of 1 million BC will surprise many human evolution specialists who were expecting the changeover from apeman to ancestral forms of our own species to have occurred a good 300,000 years later. The new discovery therefore suggests that Homo sapiens was beginning to evolve out of earlier hominid forms some time before 1,000,000BC - perhaps between 1.2 million and 1.1 million years ago.
The skull - unearthed by Italian palaeontologist Ernesto Abbate - has facial bone and some skull shape characteristics which are associated with early Homo sapiens, but has many other characteristics which are typical of early Homo sapiens' apeman forebear, Homo erectus.
Over the past 5,000,000 years up to 20 different species of human have existed. At the time that the Eritrean individual was alive there were at least two or three species in existence. Our species, Homo sapiens, is simply the sole survivor.Reuse content