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Dating the skull from Broken Hill, Zambia, and its position in human evolution

Dating the skull from Broken Hill, Zambia, and its position in human evolution
Dating the skull from Broken Hill, Zambia, and its position in human evolution

The cranium from Broken Hill (Kabwe) was recovered from cave deposits in 1921, during metal ore mining in what is now Zambia 1. It is one of the best-preserved skulls of a fossil hominin, and was initially designated as the type specimen of Homo rhodesiensis, but recently it has often been included in the taxon Homo heidelbergensis 2–4. However, the original site has since been completely quarried away, and—although the cranium is often estimated to be around 500 thousand years old 5–7—its unsystematic recovery impedes its accurate dating and placement in human evolution. Here we carried out analyses directly on the skull and found a best age estimate of 299 ± 25 thousand years (mean ± 2σ). The result suggests that later Middle Pleistocene Africa contained multiple contemporaneous hominin lineages (that is, Homo sapiens 8,9, H. heidelbergensis/H. rhodesiensis and Homo naledi 10,11), similar to Eurasia, where Homo neanderthalensis, the Denisovans, Homo floresiensis, Homo luzonensis and perhaps also Homo heidelbergensis and Homo erectus 12 were found contemporaneously. The age estimate also raises further questions about the mode of evolution of H. sapiens in Africa and whether H. heidelbergensis/H. rhodesiensis was a direct ancestor of our species 13,14.

0028-0836
372-375
Grün, R.
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Pike, A.
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McDermott, F.
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Eggins, S.
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Mortimer, G.
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Aubert, M.
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Kinsley, L.
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Joannes-Boyau, R.
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Rumsey, M.
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Denys, C.
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Brink, J.
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Clark, T.
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Stringer, C.
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Grün, R.
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Pike, A.
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McDermott, F.
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Eggins, S.
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Mortimer, G.
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Aubert, M.
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Kinsley, L.
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Joannes-Boyau, R.
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Rumsey, M.
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Denys, C.
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Brink, J.
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Clark, T.
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Stringer, C.
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Grün, R., Pike, A., McDermott, F., Eggins, S., Mortimer, G., Aubert, M., Kinsley, L., Joannes-Boyau, R., Rumsey, M., Denys, C., Brink, J., Clark, T. and Stringer, C. (2020) Dating the skull from Broken Hill, Zambia, and its position in human evolution. Nature, 580 (7803), 372-375. (doi:10.1038/s41586-020-2165-4).

Record type: Article

Abstract

The cranium from Broken Hill (Kabwe) was recovered from cave deposits in 1921, during metal ore mining in what is now Zambia 1. It is one of the best-preserved skulls of a fossil hominin, and was initially designated as the type specimen of Homo rhodesiensis, but recently it has often been included in the taxon Homo heidelbergensis 2–4. However, the original site has since been completely quarried away, and—although the cranium is often estimated to be around 500 thousand years old 5–7—its unsystematic recovery impedes its accurate dating and placement in human evolution. Here we carried out analyses directly on the skull and found a best age estimate of 299 ± 25 thousand years (mean ± 2σ). The result suggests that later Middle Pleistocene Africa contained multiple contemporaneous hominin lineages (that is, Homo sapiens 8,9, H. heidelbergensis/H. rhodesiensis and Homo naledi 10,11), similar to Eurasia, where Homo neanderthalensis, the Denisovans, Homo floresiensis, Homo luzonensis and perhaps also Homo heidelbergensis and Homo erectus 12 were found contemporaneously. The age estimate also raises further questions about the mode of evolution of H. sapiens in Africa and whether H. heidelbergensis/H. rhodesiensis was a direct ancestor of our species 13,14.

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Grun Broken Hill submission - Accepted Manuscript
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Accepted/In Press date: 30 January 2020
e-pub ahead of print date: 1 April 2020
Published date: 16 April 2020
Additional Information: Funding Information: Acknowledgements Aspects of this research were funded by ARC grants DP0664144 (R.G. et al.) ‘Microanalysis of human fossils: new insights into age, diet and migration’, DP0666084 (R. G. Roberts, R.G. et al.) ‘Out of Africa and into Australia: robust chronologies for turning points in modern human evolution and dispersal’, DP110101415 (R.G. et al.) ‘Understanding the migrations of prehistoric populations through direct dating and isotopic tracking of their mobility patterns’. C.S. acknowledges support from the Calleva Foundation and the Human Origins Research Fund, as well as the assistance of past and present members of staff at the Natural History Museum: R. Kruszynski, L. Buck, L. Crété, G. Comerford, L. Cornish, C. Collins, L. Harvey, J. Galway-Witham and P. Brewer.

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 439146
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/439146
ISSN: 0028-0836
PURE UUID: 9e1443f0-4f39-487e-ad09-99a7459c36fc
ORCID for A. Pike: ORCID iD orcid.org/0000-0002-5610-8948

Catalogue record

Date deposited: 06 Apr 2020 16:30
Last modified: 26 Nov 2021 05:55

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Contributors

Author: R. Grün
Author: A. Pike ORCID iD
Author: F. McDermott
Author: S. Eggins
Author: G. Mortimer
Author: M. Aubert
Author: L. Kinsley
Author: R. Joannes-Boyau
Author: M. Rumsey
Author: C. Denys
Author: J. Brink
Author: T. Clark
Author: C. Stringer

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