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Georgian Skull Find
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By Rick GorePhotographs by Gouram Tsibakhashvili



This 1.75-million-year-old skull from the republic of Georgia might have belonged to one of the first humans to leave Africa. And it doesn’t look anything like what scientists thought it would.



Get a taste of what awaits you in print from this compelling excerpt.

This is the face that’s changing a thousand minds. It could be the face of the first human to leave Africa. And it’s not what anyone expected. This 1.75-million-year-old pioneer, found last year beneath the ruins of a medieval town called Dmanisi in the republic of Georgia, had a tiny brain—not nearly the size scientists thought our ancestors needed to migrate into a new land. And its huge canine teeth and thin brow look too apelike for an advanced hominid, the group that includes modern humans and their ancestors. Along with other fossils and tools found at the site, this skull reopens so many questions about our ancestry that one scientist muttered: “They ought to put it back in the ground.”

The Dmanisi team has found parts of as many as six individuals in the same layers of rock. Among them is an enormous jawbone; it belonged to an individual who must have been significantly bigger than the others. It’s possible that there were several species of hominids here, but Dato thinks that’s unlikely—the fossils were found close to each other and different hominid species don’t tend to be found together. If they’re the same species, then the size differences need to be explained some other way. Perhaps the big mandible belonged to an old male, and like gorillas today Dmanisi males were much larger than females. Or perhaps our ancestors were as variable in size as humans are today. Why not? After all, Shaquille O’Neal and Danny DeVito are members of the same species. Is it possible that the scientists who have given new species names to every early Homo find with significant differences have made our family tree more complicated than it really is?


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The six noticeably different individuals found in the same layers of rock at Dmanisi suggest that they may be from the same species. How does this revelation change your idea of our ancient ancestry? Share your thoughts.



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In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

Did You Know?
There is an almost one-million-year gap between the Georgian republic site of Dmanisi and any European early-human site, with Spain holding the earliest accepted fossils, dated at 780,000 years old. Yet humans had reached eastern China by 1.1 million years ago. Why did early humans appear to have taken so long to get to western Europe, when it’s the closer exit from Africa than eastern Asia? One theory suggests that climate and geography prevented them from dispersing into Europe and sent them eastward into Asia instead. Or perhaps, early sites like Dmanisi just haven’t been discovered yet. There is much that we still don’t know; the story of human origins is forever unfolding.

—Mary Jennings

Did You Know?

Related Links
The Georgian Center of Prehistoric Research
www.dmanisi.org.ge/index.html
Find out more about this extraordinary site, including the history of its finds and this newest skull to rock the paleo world.

The Smithsonian Institution’s Human Origins Program
www.mnh.si.edu/anthro/humanorigins/
Learn more about human ancestors, see what’s hot in paleoanthropology, and get questions answered by a researcher with the program.

The Embassy of Georgia
www.georgiaemb.org/
Read about the history of Georgia, and get current news on the country. 

Science Magazine
www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/297/5578/85
Read a summary of the July 5 Science article and search the archives for past articles. 

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Bibliography
Abesalom Vekua, David Lordkipanidze, and others. “A Skull of Early Homo from Dmanisi, Georgia,” Science (July 5, 2002), 85-89.

Balter, Michael and Ann Gibbons. “A Glimpse of Humans’ Journey Out of Africa,” Science (May 12, 2000), 948-950.

Delson, Eric, and others, eds. Encyclopedia of Human Evolution and Prehistory. Garland Publishing, Inc, 2000.

Gabunia, L., and Abesalom Vekua. “The environmental contexts of early human occupation of Georgia,” The Journal of Human Evolution  (June 2000), 785-802.

Rightmire, Philip. The Evolution of Homo Erectus, Cambridge University Press, 1990.

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NGS Resources
Berger, Lee. “Dawn of Humans: Redrawing Our Family Tree,” National Geographic (August 1998), 90-99.

Gore, Rick. “Dawn of Humans: People Like Us,” National Geographic (July 2000), 90-117.

Gore, Rick. “Dawn of Humans: Expanding Worlds,” National Geographic (May 1997), 84-109.

Gore, Rick. “Dawn of Humans: The First Europeans,” National Geographic (July 1997), 96-113.

Leakey, Meave. “Dawn of Humans: The Farthest Horizon,” National Geographic (September 1995), 38-51.

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