Fossils Show Earlier Migration from Africa

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- Armed only with primitive stone tools, the first human migrants left Africa around 1.7 million years ago, boldly starting a dispersal that eventually would people the world.

An international team of scientists uncovered the fossils of two partial humanlike skulls from the site of an ancient river bluff in the Republic of Georgia.

The specimens, identified as from a pre-human species known as early Homo erectus or Homo ergaster, have been age-dated at 1.7 million years, making them the oldest human ancestral fossils ever found outside Africa, the cradle continent for all of humanity.

"This is the first time that we have a firm date about the very early immigrants from Africa," said Reid Ferring, a scientist from the University of North Texas in Denton and co-author of the study. "These are the earliest ones we know about."

Ferring said the fossils are clearly related to the early Homo erectus or Homo ergaster specimens found in Africa and dated at about 1.8 million years. Earlier studies had suggested that it was the late Homo erectus human species that first left Africa about 1 million years ago, but the new discovery advances that migration to a significantly earlier date.

"This shows that humans were far more adaptable and mobile and aggressive in their exploration at a much earlier stage than we thought," he said.

A report on the study appears today in the journal Science. …