Skull Find Defies Old Theories ; Fossil Discovery Is Closest Yet to 'Missing Link' - but Complicates Mankind's Family Tree

By Mark Sappenfield writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, July 11, 2002 | Go to article overview

Skull Find Defies Old Theories ; Fossil Discovery Is Closest Yet to 'Missing Link' - but Complicates Mankind's Family Tree


Mark Sappenfield writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


At the southern fringes of the Saharan sand dunes, a team of French scientists has come closer than ever before to finding the holy grail of anthropology: the missing link between humans and their ape forebears.

In one of the most inhospitable places on the planet, buffeted by sand storms and seared by average high temperatures well over 100 degrees F. in summer, a 10-year mission has unearthed the complete skull of what is believed to be the oldest human ancestor yet found - between 6 million and 7 million years old.

It is one of the most significant discoveries in the history of anthropology.

The skull sheds light on the crucial, yet largely unknown period 6 million to 10 million years ago, when the human lineage is thought to have branched off from apes. Already, its characteristics and location are forcing anthropologists to rethink their most basic tenets - from where the human line originated to how and when it developed.

The result, say scientists, will likely be one of the most fecund periods of paleoanthropology, as researchers seek similar fossils across Africa in an attempt to understand how this peculiar cranium fits into the ever more complicated story of human evolution.

"This is the first time that we've been able to take a glimpse of the world that connected us to the tree of life," says Bernard Wood, an anthropologist at George Washington University in Washington. "That's a pretty big deal."

Until now, that epoch had been an almost complete mystery. Although it held the secrets of mankind's beginnings, all the hominid fossils found from that time couldn't fill a locker at the YMCA.

Lacking a fossil record to look at, many scientists held to the traditional idea of human development: that human ancestors originated in eastern Africa and - at least in the earliest years - could be traced along a single ancestral line to today's Homo sapiens.

The ancient skull, reported in this week's issue of the journal Nature, emphatically refutes those notions.

For one, it is unlike anything scientists could have imagined, with a strange mixture of a chimp-like brain case and a more human face. The combination of features point to a diversity of hominids, even at that earliest stage of development, with perhaps a half dozen or so species all emerging at once.

"There was a lot of variation out there," says Daniel Lieberman, an anthropologist at Harvard University who has seen the skull. "We've been connecting the dots when most of the dots have been missing."

What's more, it was found along the shores of a dry lake in the country of Chad, 1,500 miles west of the east African rift valleys often called "the cradle of humankind. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Skull Find Defies Old Theories ; Fossil Discovery Is Closest Yet to 'Missing Link' - but Complicates Mankind's Family Tree
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.