Friday, December 08, 2006

Australopithecus Ruled Out Of Man's Ancestry

U-Pb Isotopic Age of the StW 573 Hominid from Sterkfontein, South Africa. 2006. J. Walker et al. Science 314: 1592 – 1594.
Ancient remains, once thought to be a key link in the evolution of mankind, have now been shown to be 400,000 years too young to be a part of man’s family tree.
From the press release:

The remains of the apeman, dubbed Little Foot, were discovered in a cave complex at Sterkfontein by a local South African team in 1997. It is the most complete Australopithecus fossil skeleton ever found.

New research using uranium-lead chronology now shows the remains are more than a million years younger than earlier estimates. Working on extracts of stalagmite deposits from immediately above and below the body, they dated the skeleton at around 2.2 million years old.

Their findings are controversial. Earlier estimates had put the age of Little Foot at three to four million years old placing it potentially on a direct line to humans.

The first recognisable stone tools appeared in Africa around 2.6 million years ago, but they were not made by australopiths. Rather it is thought the first tool maker was Homo habilis, whose evolution is believed to have led directly to man. Rather than being older than Homo habilis – and a possible direct ancestor – Little Foot is more likely a distant cousin.

Before there was 10cc there was Hotlegs who produced, “Neanderthal Man”: