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Professor Frank McDermott Nature Publication

New dates on a famous African hominin skull is helping rewrite the human family tree

A new age on the skull of Homo heidelbergensis is helping change our understanding of human evolution, thanks to research from Professor Frank McDermott at the UCD School of Earth Sciences.

The hominin skull was originally discovered in the 1920s in cave deposits in Zambia and was thought to have been as old as 500,000 years. Now, new dates on calcium carbonate deposits, tooth enamel and the skull itself have revised the age to 299,000 years ago.

The results, published in Nature today, suggests that Homo heidelbergensis was unlikely to have been an ancestor to modern humans. Instead, the younger age implies heidelbergensis lived alongside Homo sapiens and Homo naledi in Africa. The total number of different human species living in Africa and Asia at the time is now estimated to be nine.

Professor McDermott worked on dating a calcitic layer that was found on the skull. His results suggested that the skull might be significantly younger than previously thought. This led to a research team at The Australian National University to follow up with direct dating of skull and tooth enamel to tie down the skull ages to 299,000 years ago, plus or minus 25,000 years.

Nature Press Release: (opens in a new window)https://www.natureasia.com/en/research/highlight/13269

Full Paper: (opens in a new window)https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-2165-4