Ancient Fossil Discovery May Reveal Important Clues on Human Origins
A new study conducted by an international team of researchers from the US, Italy and Spain could shed new light on the earliest existence of human beings.
The study, published this week by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, analysed ear bones from two species of early human ancestors in South Africa – Paranthropus robustus and Australopithecus africanus. The tiny ear bones are among the rarest of human fossils ever recovered and are the oldest ear bones of a fossil hominin ever recovered, dating back two million ears.
The bones were discovered in two well-known South African cave sites – Swartkrans and Sterkfontein – which have yielded abundant fossils of our early human ancestors.
The significance of the finding is that one of the tiny bones in the ear, the malleus, is clearly human-like and distinguishes us from chimpanzees, gorillas and orang-utans. Moreover, the malleus of the early hominins is remarkably similar to the bone that exists in our own species, Homo sapiens. Since both the early hominin species share this human-like malleus, the anatomical changes in the bone must have occurred very early in our evolutionary history.
"Bipedalism (walking on two feet) and a reduction in the size of the canine teeth have long been held up as the "hallmark of humanity" since they seem to be present in the earliest human fossils recovered to date” said one of the researchers, “Our study suggests that the list may need to be updated to include changes in the malleus as well."