‘Not alone’: 3 different human ancestors may have lived together in South Africa 2 million years ago

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Credit: Matthew V. Caruana

An international team, including Arizona State University researcher Gary Schwartz, have unearthed the earliest known skull of Homo erectus, the first of our ancestors to be nearly human-like in their anatomy and aspects of their behavior.

Years of painstaking excavation at the fossil-rich site of Drimolen, nestled within the Cradle of Humankind (a UNESCO World Heritage site … in South Africa), has resulted in the recovery of several new and important fossils.

Additional fossils recovered from Drimolen belong to a different species — in fact, a different genus of ancient human altogether — the more heavily built, robust human ancestor Paranthropus robustus, known to also occur at several nearby cave sites preserving fossils of the same geological age. A third, distinctive species, Australopithecus sediba, is known from two-million-year old deposits of an ancient cave site virtually down the road from Drimolen.

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“Unlike the situation today, where we are the only human species, two million years ago our direct ancestor was not alone,” said project director and lead researcher from La Trobe University in Australia, Andy Herries.

Related article:  Infographic: Our skulls have been shrinking for 250 years—'our faces have begun to deform'

“What is really exciting is the discovery that during this same narrow time slice, at just around two million years ago, there were three very different types of ancient human ancestors roaming the same small landscape,” said Schwartz.

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