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Ethiopian find could fill gap in human origins

A hominid skull discovered in Ethiopia appears to be "intermediate" between modern humans and older precursors, a scientist says.
The "intermediate" hominid skull is held by Gona project member Asahmed Humet, who discovered the fossil on Feb. 16 near the Ethiopian city of Gawis.
The "intermediate" hominid skull is held by Gona project member Asahmed Humet, who discovered the fossil on Feb. 16 near the Ethiopian city of Gawis.Sileshi Semaw / Stone Age Institute
/ Source: Reuters

A hominid skull discovered in Ethiopia could fill the gap in the search for the origins of the human race, a scientist said Friday.

The cranium, found near the city of Gawis, 300 miles (500 kilometers) southeast of the capital Addis Ababa, is estimated to be 200,000 to 500,000 years old.

The skull appeared “to be intermediate between the earlier Homo erectus and the later Homo sapiens,” Sileshi Semaw, an Ethiopian research scientist at the Stone Age Institute at Indiana University, told a news conference in Addis Ababa.

It was discovered two months ago in a small gully at the Gawis River drainage basin in Ethiopia’s Afar region, southeast of the capital.

Sileshi said significant archaeological collections of stone tools and numerous fossil animals were also found at Gawis.

“(It) opens a window into an intriguing and important period in the development of modern humans,” Sileshi said.

Over the last 50 years, Ethiopia has been a hotbed for archaeological discoveries. Hadar, located near Gawis, is where scientist Donald Johnson found the 3.2 million-year-old remains of “Lucy,” described by scientists as one of the greatest archaeological discoveries in the world.

Lucy, unearthed in 1974, is Ethiopia’s world-acclaimed archaeological find. The discovery of the almost complete hominid skeleton was a landmark in the search for the origins of humanity.

Map of the fossil discovery site at Gona, Ethiopia

On the shores of what was formerly a lake in 1967, two Homo sapiens skulls dating back 195,000 years were unearthed. The discovery pushed back the known date of mankind, suggesting that modern humans and their older precursors existed side by side.

Sileshi said while different from a modern human, the brain case, upper face and jaw of the cranium have unmistakable anatomical characteristics that belong to human ancestry.

“The Gawis cranium provides us with the opportunity to look at the face of one of our ancestors,” he added.