Scientists say fossilised skull from Ethiopia could be missing link

Scientists in Ethiopia have discovered a hominid skull that could be a missing link between Homo erectus and modern man.

The hominid cranium was found in two pieces and is believed to be between 500,000 and 250,000 years old. Sileshi Semaw, the director of the Gona Paleoanthropological Research Project in Ethiopia, said it came "from a significant period and is close to the appearance of the anatomically modern human".

Archaeologists found the cranium at Gawis, in Ethiopia's north-eastern Afar region, five weeks ago, Dr Semaw said.

An Ethiopian palaeoanthropologist at Indiana University, Dr Semaw said that most fossil hominids were found in pieces. By contrast, the near-complete skull had provided a wealth of information.

"The Gawis cranium provides us with the opportunity to look at the face of one of our ancestors," the archaeology project said in a statement. "This fossil links us with the past by showing a face that is recognisably different and more primitive than ours."

The cranium dates back 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 are poorly dated.

The face and cranium of the fossil are recognisably different from that of modern humans, but it offers unmistakable anatomical evidence that it belongs in our ancestry, Dr Semaw said.

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