Photo Slideshow

A New Look for Early Homo

Scientists uncovered a stunning skull that gives a fresh portrait of early humans. For more on the most complete early Homo skull ever found, read the news story and research article.

Homo erectus, one of our direct ancestors, has a new look. [Georgian National Museum]
During the past 20 years, researchers working at the site of Dmanisi, Georgia, have uncovered a trove of hominin fossils dated to about 1.8 million years ago.
Dmanisi preserves the oldest human ancestors outside Africa. Many skeletons were found in ancient carnivore dens, the victims of now-extinct sabre tooth cats or giant cheetahs. [Courtesy of David Lordkipanidze]
On 5 August 2005, paleoanthropologists discovered a stunningly complete skull. [Courtesy of David Lordkipanidze]
Archaeologist Giorgi Nioradze discovered the skull and helped to carefully dig it out, even as rain flooded the excavation pit. [Courtesy of David Lordkipanidze]
It was the 42nd birthday of team leader David Lordkipanidze of the Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi. The fossil–the world's first completely preserved adult hominin skull of such antiquity–was the ultimate birthday gift. [Courtesy of David Lordkipanidze]
The researchers were surprised by the skull's relatively primitive face, with a protruding jaw and small brain. They think this was once an adult man, an early member of our genus Homo, who had arthritis in his jaw and used his front teeth to grip things. [© Guram Bumbiashvili/Georgian National Museum]
Dmanisi skulls: Four other skulls had already been found from Dmanisi, including men, women and an adolescent. (The newest skull is on the far right). The differences among the 5 suggest that Homo was variable in appearance from the beginning. [© M. S. Ponce de León and C. P. E. Zollikofer/University of Zurich]
To get a sense of what this ancient man might have looked like, paleoartist Jay Matternes first carefully sketched the skull in several different views, including frontal and profile. [© Jay Matternes]
Then he put flesh on the bones, using clues from the bones as a guide to muscle size and thickness. [© Jay Matternes]
Then Matternes added skin. The final drawing shows researchers' best estimate of what this man might have looked like, if you met him 1.8 million years ago at Dmanisi. [© Jay Matternes]
Matternes repeated the process for other views. In many ancient skulls, the delicate bones of the midface are missing. But this skull is astonishingly complete, aiding the reconstruction. [© Jay Matternes]
The reconstructions show the ancient man's low forehead, small braincase and protruding jaws, all primitive traits. But he also had a flat, vertically-oriented upper face. This and other traits show that he was indeed a member of our genus, and one of our ancestors. The team concludes that he belongs in the species Homo erectus. [© Jay Matternes]
To read more, see the news story and research article.