Skull of early human found with 'pinhead' brain like a gorilla's

A spectacularly preserved skull of one of the earliest human ancestors to emerge from Africa about 1.75 million years ago has been unearthed by scientists in Georgia.

A spectacularly preserved skull of one of the earliest human ancestors to emerge from Africa about 1.75 million years ago has been unearthed by scientists in Georgia.

The skull has the smallest brain of any unambiguously human fossil, indicating that early humans did not need big brains to journey out of Africa.

Scientists found the skull and jawbone at Dmanisi, which has already revealed fossils of a sabre-toothed tiger and prehistoric rhinoceros, deer, wolf and horse. It is the third set of human remains believed to be of early Homo erectus to be dug from the site. However, the petite size of the skull with its thin brow ridge and short nose – but huge canine teeth – has amazed palaeontologists, who believe it might be of a female.

Professor Chris Stringer, head of human origins at the Natural History Museum in London, said: "This latest skull is astonishingly well preserved and quite exceptional. It's also completely unexpected."

The skull's features are human yet the brain is not much bigger than that of an ape. These early people would have looked human and used simple stone tools.

"This is astonishing. If you looked hard enough you could probably find a gorilla with a brain that big. They may have been pinheads but below the neck they would have looked largely human," he said.

David Lordkipanidze, of the Georgian Academy of Sciences in Tbilisi, published details of the find today in the journal Science. It is said to be the largest collection of individuals from any archaeological site older than about 800,000 years.

The difference in size between this skull and two much bigger skulls and jawbones found with it suggests either that two species lived at the site or that the difference in size between males and females was once much bigger than it is in modern humans.

"Here we have the chance to study a population. We are seeing a difference mainly in size, not morphology [shape]. For now, my hypothesis is that we are seeing variability within the population," he writes.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk