Skull Sessions Cause Experts to Rethink Human History

Article excerpt

Scientists may have to rewrite the story of mankind's move out of Africa more than a million years ago, researchers reported Wednesday.

Two fossilized skulls found in Indonesia have been dated to 1.7 million and 1.8 million years ago - about the same age as the oldest bones of human ancestors found in Africa.

"This opens the question of when the migration of hominid predecessors out of Africa was," said Garniss Curtis, a researcher with the Institute of Human Origins in Berkeley, Calif.

Curtis and colleagues reported the finding at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and in today's Science magazine.

The finding "opens a whole new vista" on this period of human history, University of California anthropologist Clark Howell told Science.

Scientists had thought that Homo erectus - the predecessor to modern Homo sapiens - evolved in Africa and developed stone tools that enabled them to venture beyond the continent.

But Curtis and Carl Swisher, another scientist at the institute, re-examined two fossilized skulls found on the island of Java in Indonesia - the first one in 1936 and the second in the 1970s.

Using a more accurate dating technique, they found that the volcanic rock in which the skulls were found was 800,000 years older than shown by earlier tests. …