In Groundbreaking Find, Three Kinds of Early Humans Unearthed Living Together in South Africa
By Brian Handwerk/Smithsonianmag.com
Scientists studying the roots of humanity’s family tree have found several branches entangled in and around a South African cave.
Two million years ago, three different early humans—Australopithecus, Paranthropus, and the earliest-known Homo erectus—appear to have lived at the same time in the same place, near the Drimolen Paleocave System. How much these different species interacted remains unknown. But their contemporaneous existence suggests our ancient relations were quite diverse during a key transitional period of African prehistory that saw the last days of Australopithecus and the dawn of H. erectus’s nearly two-million-year run.
“We know that the old idea, that when one species occurs another goes extinct and you don’t have much overlap, that’s just not the case,” says study coauthor Andy Herries, a paleoanthropologist at La Trobe University in Australia.