New Scientist: Mixed origins
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EVE is dead, say Michigan palaeontologists. They claim their analysis of an Australian fossil overturns the dominant theory of the origin of our species.
Most scientists believe that Homo sapiens--the modern human--is descended from a hypothetical African "Eve". We marched out of Africa 100 000 years ago to spread across the globe, the theory goes, completely replacing older, local populations of hominids such as Homo erectus along the way. But some researchers, including Milford Wolpoff of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, believe that modern humans are the product of continual worldwide mixing of populations and gene flow between ancient hominids.
For evidence of his theory, Wolpoff turned to a 15 000-year-old hominid cranium, called WLH 50, unearthed in Australia in 1982. Wolpoff's graduate student John Hawks and his colleagues compared dozens of features on WLH 50 with an earlier Homo erectus skull from Ngandong in Java and an early African skull. If the Eve theory is correct, the Australian and Javan skulls should be unrelated.But the researchers say that WLH 50 appears more like the Ngandong skull than the African sample both in shape, such as the sloped forehead, and in the size of features such as the ridge on the top of the cranium. "That makes the Eve replacement theory wrong and our theory right," says Wolpoff.
Chris Stringer, a human origins expert at the Natural History Museum in London, says he still prefers the replacement theory. The large size of WLH 50 makes it superficially look like the Ngandong skull, he says.
Source: Journal of Human Evolution (vol 39, p 1)
From New Scientist magazine, 05 August 2000.Sign up for our free newsletter
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