Yet another missing link found

The popular press is abuzz with reports of a missing link in the evolution of modern humans. The find, coming out of the ethiopian region made famous for the discovery of australopithecus afarensis, dates to a critical time in human evolution: the period when modern humans developed from their more primitive precursor, Homo erectucs. The find appears to date from 500,000 to 250,000 years ago, while modern humans appear to have existed by around 200,000 years ago, so it may capture a critical period in this transition. DNA evidence suggests that the transition to modern humans took place in Africa but until now, all fossils dating from this era come from elsewhere. HangZhou Night Net

Unfortunately, at this point, details are extremely scarce. Most stories appear to be derived from the initial press release, and a full scientific report is currently unavailable. The details that this find can provide will be somewhat limited, since the bones are all from the cranium. Some indication of brain capacity, however, should be easy to obtain. The release simply states that the skull appears "intermediate", but gives no indication of how or why. As a big plus, there appear to be tools associated with the find, which may help scientists to evaluate the social sophistication of the population this individual belonged to.

Overall, given the lack of detail about the sample itself, it's hard to get too excited by this announcement. Given time for a thorough analysis, however, it has great potential for clarifying one of the major transitions during the evolution of modern humans. Hopefully, it also represents what is often the case at these sites: the first of many finds from a specific era.

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