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A one-million-year-old Homo cranium from the Danakil (Afar) Depression of Eritrea


One of the most contentious topics in the study of human evolution is that of the time, place and mode of origin of Homo sapiens1,2,3. The discovery in the Northern Danakil (Afar) Depression, Eritrea, of a well-preserved Homo cranium with a mixture of characters typical of H. erectus and H. sapiens contributes significantly to this debate. The cranium was found in a succession of fluvio-deltaic and lacustrine deposits and is associated with a rich mammalian fauna of early to early-middle Pleistocene age. A magnetostratigraphic survey indicates two reversed and two normal magnetozones. The layer in which the cranium was found is near the top of the lower normal magnetozone, which is identified as the Jaramillo subchron. Consequently, the human remains can be dated at 1 million years before present.

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Figure 1: Simplified geology of the Northern Danakil Depression between the Eritrean-Ethiopian plateau and the Southern Red Sea.
Figure 2: Stratigraphy of the Danakil Formation in the Buia area.
Figure 3: The UA 31 cranium.


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All fossils are stored at the Eritrea National Museum, Asmara; inventory numbers refer to the provisional catalogue. We thank M. Pickford and T. D. White for discussions about the fossil record; M. R. Gibling, I. P. Martini, P. Passerini and A. Turner for critical reading of an earlier manuscript; A. Kibrab (Eritrea Department of Mines) and Y. Libsekal (Eritrea National Museum) for assistance in Eritrea; and F. Heller (ETH Magnetic Laboratory, Zurich). This work was supported by the Italian CNR (Cultural Heritage and TRANSRIFT projects), the PeriTethys Programme, the European Commission, the University of Florence, and the Italian Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

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Correspondence to Ernesto Abbate.

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Abbate, E., Albianelli, A., Azzaroli, A. et al. A one-million-year-old Homo cranium from the Danakil (Afar) Depression of Eritrea. Nature 393, 458–460 (1998).

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