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Remains of Homo erectus from Bouri, Middle Awash, Ethiopia

Abstract

The genesis, evolution and fate of Homo erectus have been explored palaeontologically since the taxon's recognition in the late nineteenth century. Current debate1 is focused on whether early representatives from Kenya and Georgia should be classified as a separate ancestral species (‘H. ergaster’)2,3,4, and whether H. erectus was an exclusively Asian species lineage that went extinct5,6. Lack of resolution of these issues has obscured the place of H. erectus in human evolution. A hominid calvaria and postcranial remains recently recovered from the Dakanihylo Member of the Bouri Formation, Middle Awash, Ethiopia, bear directly on these issues. These 1.0-million-year (Myr)-old Pleistocene sediments contain abundant early Acheulean stone tools and a diverse vertebrate fauna that indicates a predominantly savannah environment. Here we report that the ‘Daka’ calvaria's metric and morphological attributes centre it firmly within H. erectus. Daka's resemblance to Asian counterparts indicates that the early African and Eurasian fossil hominids represent demes of a widespread palaeospecies. Daka's anatomical intermediacy between earlier and later African fossils provides evidence of evolutionary change. Its temporal and geographic position indicates that African H. erectus was the ancestor of Homo sapiens.

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Figure 1: Maps and generalized sections.
Figure 2: Views of the Daka calvaria and cladograms representing majority rule (a) and strict consensus (b) of the 75 most parsimonious phylogenies generated by PAUP 4.0b8 (Sinauer).

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Acknowledgements

This paper is dedicated to the late J. Desmond Clark who initiated this research at Bouri in 1981. We thank A. Almquist, A. Asfaw, M. Asnake, T. Assebework, D. Brill, D. DeGusta, J. DeHeinzelin, A. Getty, Y. Haile-Selassie, B. Latimer, Ç. Pehlevan, K. Schick, S. Simpson, P. Snow, G. Suwa and Y. Zeleke for fieldwork and analytical studies. Electron microprobe and other support from the Earth Environmental Sciences Division, Los Alamos National Laboratory. Thanks to G. Suwa, D. DeGusta, C. Feibel, F. C. Howell, C. O. Lovejoy, F. Bibi, T. Stidham, J. Parham, J.-R. Boisserie and H. Saegusa for thoughtful review and/or assistance. We thank the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture, the Authority for Research and Conservation of the Cultural Heritage, and the National Museum of Ethiopia for permissions, and the Afar Regional Government and the Afar people of the Middle Awash, particularly H. Elema. Many additional individuals contributed. This research was supported by the NSF (USA) and the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics (University of California at Los Alamos National Laboratory), with additional contributions by the Graduate School and Hampton Fund for International Initiatives, Miami University.

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Correspondence to Berhane Asfaw.

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Asfaw, B., Gilbert, W., Beyene, Y. et al. Remains of Homo erectus from Bouri, Middle Awash, Ethiopia. Nature 416, 317–320 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1038/416317a

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