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1.7-million-year-old skull goes on display

30 November 2005

Replicas of human skulls, including one nearly two million years old from Dmanisi in Georgia, have recently been put on display at the Natural History Museum, making its Our Place in Evolution exhibition looking at how humans have evolved the most up to date in the world.

'Since our original exhibition opened, 10 new species of fossil human relatives have been discovered,' said Professor Chris Stringer, Head of Human Origins at the Museum. 'These are now all represented in the display and show the complexity of our evolutionary history.'

Seven-million-year-old relative
A highlight of the display is an image of a seven-million-year-old skull discovered by chance in Chad in 2001. Named Sahelanthropus tcha`densis , it has a skull shape and brain size similar to African apes, but its short flat face, prominent brow ridges and small, worn canine teeth are more like those of early humans.  Its discovery 2,400 kilometres from previous finds in East Africa raises new questions about where our earliest relatives evolved.

Ancient ancestors
Also on show are replicas of 400,000- and 800,000-year-old skulls of an adult and child found in the Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain. The adult skull, complete with jawbone, may represent an ancient ancestor of the Neanderthals, a human species that lived at the same time as Homo sapiens but whose populations later became extinct. The child's skull shows a mix of human and more primitive features and has provoked fierce debate over whether Homo antecessor , as the skull is currently named, really represents a new species.

Homo floresiensis
Information is also displayed about the most recent human species discovered, Homo floresiensis . Astonishingly, dating evidence suggests H. floresiensis survived as recently as 12,000 years ago, when a volcanic eruption on the island may have sealed its fate.

Our Place in Evolution
The Museum gallery Our Place in Evolution charts the development of the human species and explores the new technologies and latest ideas being used to increase our understanding of human evolution.

Dr Christophe Soligo, human origins expert at the Museum adds, 'the updated display is really exciting because the replicas succeed in illustrating most of the hottest issues to do with human origins that scientists are currently debating'.