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News Release 08-203

Discovery Questions Intelligence of Human Ancestor

Pelvis dated to 1.2 million years ago shows our ancestors were born with bigger heads

Illustration of the female pelvic bones and babies of "Lucy", Homo erectus and H. sapiens.

The female pelvic bones and babies of "Lucy", a Homo erectus and a modern woman.


November 18, 2008

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

A recently discovered female pelvis is changing minds about the head size of an ancient human ancestor, Homo erectus, and consequently revising notions about how smart they may have been. Found in Gona, Ethiopia, not far from the site that yielded the 3.2 million year old remains of the famed Australopithecus afarensi "Lucy," the pelvis indicates that Homo erectus, which lived in Africa roughly 2 million years ago, had a larger birth canal than originally suspected and could have given birth to babies with bigger brains.

Before the female pelvis was found, evidence from the pelvis of a juvenile male led researchers to project that the cranial circumference and capacity of newborn Homo erectus babies was 30 percent smaller than more recent projections based on the newly discovered pelvis.

Sileshi Semaw, a paleoanthropologist at the Stone Age Institute and Indiana University-Bloomington, and his colleagues assert that the head of a baby born from this Homo erectus could have been 318 millimeters in circumference. This is at the lower end of the spectrum of modern day human beings whose cranial circumferences at birth typically range from 320-370 millimeters. Semaw and colleagues present their findings in the Nov. 14 issue of Science. The research is funded in part by the National Science Foundation.

--Zina Deretsky, NSF

 

-NSF-

Media Contacts
Bobbie Mixon, NSF, (703) 292-8070, email: bmixon@nsf.gov
Steve Chaplin, Indiana University, (812) 856 1896, email: stjchap@indiana.edu

Program Contacts
Mark L. Weiss, NSF, (703) 292-7272, email: mweiss@nsf.gov

Principal Investigators
Sileshi Semaw, Indiana University, (812) 876 0080, email: ssemaw@indiana.edu

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2020 budget of $8.3 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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