Digital reconstruction of an ancient skull suggests a much older species of early humans

A reconstructed Homo habilis skull.Image: Philipp Gunz, Simon Neubauer & Fred Spoor

A digital reconstruction of a partial skull of Homo habilis, said to be the earliest known member of the genus Homo, has raises new questions about its relationship with other species of early humans.

The reconstruction, presented in the journal Nature, suggests Homo habilis is more primitive than previously thought and may have originated at least 2.3 million years ago.

Just over 50 years ago, fossils of a 1.8-million-year-old relative of modern humans named Homo habilis, or handy man, were found in what is now Tanzania and described in the Nature.

The partial skull and hand should offer insights into the early evolution but the jaw is distorted, which has hindered attempts to compare this specimen with other fossils.

Fred Spoor of University College London and colleagues overcome this problem by using digital technology.

The reconstruction indicates that the jawbone is more primitive than that of Homo erectus or Homo sapiens.

The analysis reveals that early members of Homo were diverse, distinguished by variation in facial features rather than differences in brain size.

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