UF Researcher Helps Establish New Views On Human Origins

December 13, 1996

GAINESVILLE ---A University of Florida anthropologist is part of an international research team whose new findings could change the way human evolution theory is taught in some classrooms.

The team that includes UF anthropology professor Susan Anton used a relatively new dating technique to show that the remains of a modern-human ancestor are thousands -- and perhaps hundreds of thousands -- of years younger than previously thought.

The new evidence may alter opinions that have been held for more than 60 years.

"As modern-human-origins debates go, this is the debate of the `90s," Anton said.

The project, to be featured in today's issue of the journal Science, deals with the age of the youngest remains of Homo erectus, the predecessor of Homo sapiens, or modern humans. The Homo erectus remains were discovered by Dutch researchers in 1931 along the Solo River on Java, Indonesia.

Initial estimates placed the remains at between 100,000 and 400,000 years old. "Among other things, they used morphological dating, which means they looked at the (remains) and said, `They must be old,'" Anton said.

But Anton and her colleagues, led by Carl C. Swisher, a geochronologist at the Berkeley Geochronology Center in Berkeley, Calif., used two modern dating techniques, one of which -- electron spin resonance (ESR) -- is considered state-of-the-art. Because the remains are not available for samples to be taken from them, Anton's team dated water buffalo teeth dug from the same area from which the Homo erectus remains came.

The new age: 27,000 to 53,000 years old.

That bolsters one prevailing hypothesis of modern human origins, known as the Out of Africa model, but contradicts the other: Multiregionalism.

Multiregionalists say Neandertals evolved into modern humans in Europe, with the latest Neandertal remains being about 30,000 years old. About the same time, they say, Homo erectus evolved into modern humans in Asia and Southeast Asia. Those who subscribe to the Out of Africa theory believe Homo sapiens arose in Africa and then spread throughout the world, replacing Neandertals and Homo erectus with little or no gene flow.

The new, younger age of the latest Indonesian Homo erectus remains indicates they coexisted with modern humans in Southeast Asia, Anton said. That would mean current versions of the Multiregional theory no longer are chronologically possible.

"If we're right ... then at that time period you actually have three hominids -- Homo erectus, Homo sapiens and Neandertals" walking the earth at the same time, Anton said. By today's measure, with only modern humans on the scene, that may seem like an odd notion.

In the big-picture scheme of things, it may not be so strange after all.

"It actually turns out we're probably the exception rather than the rule," said Anton.

Anton doesn't expect her team's new information to be accepted by everyone. While anthropologists are about evenly divided between Out-of-Africa followers and Multiregionalists, she said, the former generally enjoy more prominence.

"Out-of-Africa folks will pick it up sooner," she said.

Indeed, the team's work likely will spark new debate between the two schools of thought, said Philip Rightmire, an anthropology professor at the State University of New York at Binghamton, N.Y., who is familiar with the team's work and thinks highly of it.

Rightmire said he doesn't expect the findings to show up in textbooks for at least a couple years, but he believes they eventually will enjoy widespread acceptance.

"I think they've done a good job, and most people will end up accepting the ESR dates," he said. "If what they say is true, the Multiregional people will have to do some fast talking."

The project is funded by grants from the U.S. National Science Foundation and the Leakey Foundation. It is an ongoing collaborative study by UF; the Berkeley Geochronology Center; McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada; and Gadjah Mada University in Java, Indonesia.


Color or black & white photo available with this story. For information, please call News & Public Affairs photography at (352) 392-9092.

University of Florida

Related Modern Humans Articles from Brightsurf:

Paleogenomics -- the prehistory of modern dogs
An international team of scientists has used ancient DNA samples to elucidate the population history of dogs.

Modern humans took detours on their way to Europe
Climate conditions shaped the geography of settlement by Homo sapiens in the Levant 43,000 years ago / findings of Collaborative Research Centre 806 'Our Way to Europe' published in 'PLOS ONE'

Studying the Neandertal DNA found in modern humans using stem cells and organoids
Protocols that allow the transformation of human induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) lines into organoids have changed the way scientists can study developmental processes and enable them to decipher the interplay between genes and tissue formation, particularly for organs where primary tissue is not available.

ADHD: genomic analysis in samples of Neanderthals and modern humans
The frequency of genetic variants associated with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has decreased progressively in the evolutionary human lineage from the Palaeolithic to nowadays, according to a study published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Modern humans, Neanderthals share a tangled genetic history, study affirms
A new study reinforces the concept that Neanderthal DNA has been woven into the modern human genome on multiple occasions as our ancestors met Neanderthals time and again in different parts of the world.

Europe's Neanderthals relied on the sea as much as early modern humans
The first significant evidence of marine resource use among Europe's Neanderthals is detailed in a new report, demonstrating a level of marine adaptation previously only seen in their contemporary modern humans living in southern Africa.

Infectious disease defenses among ancient hominid contributions to adaptation of modern humans
In a new study published in the advanced online edition of Molecular Biology and Evolution, scientists Alexandre Gouy and Laurent Excoffier have developed new computational tools to better analyze human genome datasets, and found more evidence of a legacy of ancient hominid adaptation, particularly to help fight off infectious diseases like malaria.

Early modern humans cooked starchy food in South Africa, 170,000 years ago
The inhabitants of the Border Cave in the Lebombo Mountains on the Kwazulu-Natal/eSwatini border were cooking starchy plants 170,000 years ago.

Researchers determine age for last known settlement by a direct ancestor to modern humans
An international team of researchers has determined the age of the last known settlement of the species Homo erectus, one of modern humans' direct ancestors.

The homeland of modern humans
A landmark study pinpoints the birthplace of modern humans in southern Africa and suggests how past climate shifts drove their first migration.

Read More: Modern Humans News and Modern Humans Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.