March 24, 2006

Skull Discovery Could Fill Origins Gap

ADDIS ABABA -- A hominid skull discovered in Ethiopia could fill the gap in the search for the origins of the human race, a scientist said on Friday.

The cranium, found near the city of Gawis, 500 km (300 miles) southeast of the capital Addis Ababa, is estimated to be 200,000 to 500,000 years old.

The skull appeared "to be intermediate between the earlier Homo erectus and the later Homo sapiens," Sileshi Semaw, an Ethiopian research scientist at the Stone Age Institute at Indiana University, told a news conference in Addis Ababa.

It was discovered two months ago in a small gully at the Gawis river drainage basin in Ethiopia's Afar region, southeast of the capital.

Sileshi said significant archaeological collections of stone tools and numerous fossil animals were also found at Gawis.

"(It) opens a window into an intriguing and important period in the development of modern humans," Sileshi said.

Over the last 50 years, Ethiopia has been a hot bed for archaeological discoveries.

Hadar, located near Gawis, is where in 1974 U.S. scientist Donald Johnson found the 3.2 million year old remains of "Lucy," described by scientists as one of the greatest archaeological discoveries in the world.

Lucy is Ethiopia's world-acclaimed archaeological find. The discovery of the almost complete hominid skeleton was a landmark in the search for the origins of humanity.

On the shores of what was formerly a lake in 1967, two Homo sapien skulls dating back 195,000 years were unearthed. The discovery pushed back the known date of mankind, suggesting that modern man and his older precursor existed side by side.

Sileshi said while different from a modern human, the braincase, upper face and jaw of the cranium have unmistakeable anatomical evidence that belong to human ancestry.

"The Gawis cranium provides us with the opportunity to look at the face of one of our ancestors," he added.