Monday, 21 October 2013

Georgia shows off skull thought to rewrite human evolution

Tbilisi (AFP) - Georgian scientists on Friday presented a 1.8 million-year-old skull discovered in the Caucasus nation that researchers say could force a re-evaluation of current theories of human evolution.

The skull -- unearthed in the medieval town of Dmanisi some 100 kilometres (62 miles) southwest of the capital Tbilisi -- is the first completely preserved skull found from that period.

Along with four other skull samples uncovered at the site, it appears to show that early man was a single species with a wide range of looks rather than several distinct species.

"Today in this skull -- and the other Dmanisi samples -- we see all the features lumped together in one group that we previously thought identified different groups," David Lordkipanidze, Georgia's national museum director, told AFP after a presentation in Tbilisi on Friday.

"This is the most important thing -- we are touching the earliest stages of genus homo and its lineage," Lordkipanidze said.

The collection -- which is housed in the vault of Georgia's national museum -- is "the richest collection of hominids in the world from that time", according to Lordkipanidze, the lead researcher on the project.

"We wanted to share with the Georgian public here what we had found," he said before allowing a small number of journalists into the vault to see the original skull.

The stunningly well-preserved find -- known as Skull 5 -- has an almost-complete set of teeth and seems more elongated than a normal human skull.

The fossil —- which is about a third the size of a modern human head —- is normally kept in a special padded box in the vault.

Wearing white gloves to avoid contaminating the sample, a beaming Lordkipanidze held up both the jaw and main section of the skull as photographers took pictures.

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