Letters to Nature

Nature 423, 742-747 (12 June 2003) | doi:10.1038/nature01669; Received 21 November 2002; Accepted 14 April 2003

Pleistocene Homo sapiens from Middle Awash, Ethiopia

Tim D. White1, Berhane Asfaw2, David DeGusta1, Henry Gilbert1, Gary D. Richards3, Gen Suwa4 & F. Clark Howell3

  1. Department of Integrative Biology and Laboratory for Human Evolutionary Studies, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720-3160, USA
  2. Rift Valley Research Service, P.O. Box 5717, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  3. Laboratory for Human Evolutionary Studies, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720-3160, USA
  4. The University Museum, The University of Tokyo, Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo, 113-0033, Japan

Correspondence to: Tim D. White1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to T.W. (Email: timwhite@socrates.berkeley.edu).

The origin of anatomically modern Homo sapiens and the fate of Neanderthals have been fundamental questions in human evolutionary studies for over a century1, 2, 3, 4. A key barrier to the resolution of these questions has been the lack of substantial and accurately dated African hominid fossils from between 100,000 and 300,000 years ago5. Here we describe fossilized hominid crania from Herto, Middle Awash, Ethiopia, that fill this gap and provide crucial evidence on the location, timing and contextual circumstances of the emergence of Homo sapiens. Radioisotopically dated to between 160,000 and 154,000 years ago6, these new fossils predate classic Neanderthals and lack their derived features. The Herto hominids are morphologically and chronologically intermediate between archaic African fossils and later anatomically modern Late Pleistocene humans. They therefore represent the probable immediate ancestors of anatomically modern humans. Their anatomy and antiquity constitute strong evidence of modern-human emergence in Africa.