Skull study supports theory of human origin in Africa

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Homo steinheimensis, 250,000 years old.
Image: NobbiP.

Scientists from the United Kingdom have concluded, in a genetic study performed on 6,000 skulls from ancient male humans from around the world, that the origin of mankind as we know it began in southeastern Africa, which scientists refer to as "The Cradle of Man".

Skulls vary in size and shape as humans began to spread out from the African continent, and the scientists compared those characteristics to those of later humans along with their DNA. The oldest skull believed to have been tested was at least 40,000 years old.

"We have combined our genetic data with new measurements of a large sample of skulls to show definitively that modern humans originated from a single area in Sub-Saharan Africa," said Andrea Manica, one of the researchers at the Department of Zoology of the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, England.

However, some scientists disagree with the study, calling it "mistaken".

"You can't find the origin of people by measuring the variability of their skulls. The main problem with the paper is that it takes some assumptions from genetics papers of 10 to 15 years ago that we now know are wrong. Africa is ecologically diverse, and cranial variation is a function of environments. The most important feature that is related to climate is skull size. So by correcting for climate, they are subtracting a major component of variability," said John Hawks, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.