(FOX NEWS) -- Some had protruding foreheads, others had short, squashed faces. Some had enormous jaw muscles and big teeth, while others had enormous heads to hold bigger brains.
They had one thing in common, however: They were family -- our ancient family, that is, from around 2 million years ago.
The world's first completely preserved adult hominid skull from the early Pleistocene era looks surprisingly different from other skulls of the same era, yielding a remarkable insight: Man’s early ancestors appeared as physically diverse as humans do today, researchers said, and our family tree has perhaps fewer branches than today's schoolbooks teach.
“It’s a really extraordinary find,” said paleoanthropologist Marcia S. Ponce de Leon in a press conference Wednesday announcing the findings. “For the first time, we can see a population from the early Pleistocene. We only had individuals before. Now we can make comparisons and see the range of variation.”
The skull in question is a complete, 1.8-million-year-old ancestor of man, found in Dmanisi, Georgia, in Eastern Europe. The fifth such skull from the region spanning a period of a few centuries, it’s known at present only as “Skull 5” -- it hasn’t received a clever name yet like Lucy, the remarkable African skeleton found in the 70s and dating back 3.4 million years. (Lucy is an Australopithecus afarensis, an even more distant relative of modern man.)
The rarity of such artifacts makes studying them a challenge; other skulls from about 2 million years ago showed wide enough differences in shape that scientists have so far labeled them different species entirely: Homo habilis and Homo rudolfensis, for example.
Skull 5 is different, different even than the four other skulls found at Dmanisi. It was found in 2005, and ultimately matched to a jaw found in 2000 to make a complete skull. But after eight years of study, scientists on Thursday published a paper in the journal Science revealing that Skull 5 is simply not that different from others. Continue reading via Fox News...