The Bodo cranium (Homo heidelbergensis)

The Bodo cranium was recovered in 1976 from an outcrop of Middle Pleistocene sediments at Bodo in the Middle Awash valley, Ethiopia. It is one of the most complete African skulls from this period yet recovered. It was found in deposits containing Acheulian tools that were dated by the argon-40/argon-39 method to between 670,000 and 600,000 years old. It possesses many features characteristic of Homo ergaster, such as a low braincase, broad and robust facial skeleton, relatively thick bones, a forehead with a central bulge and a massive brow ridge.

Its cranial capacity, however, has been estimated at 1300cc, close to that of a modern human and considerably greater than that of Homo ergaster. It has variously been classed as archaic Homo sapiens, Homo sapiens c.f. rhodesiensis, but is now generally classed as Homo heidelbergensis.

The cranium has cut-marks suggesting intentional de-fleshing by a human with a stone tool. These may imply cannibalism, mortuary practice for ritual purposes, or both. However, the skull lacks the cranial base, meaning that brain removal through the foramen magnum cannot be clearly established, and unequivocal evidence for cannibalism is therefore lacking.

References:

Scarre C (2005) (Ed): “The human past”, Thames & Hudson.

White T (1986) Cut Marks on the Bodo Cranium: A Case of Prehistoric
Defleshing, American Journal of Physical Anthropology 69503-509 (1986).

© Christopher Seddon 2008

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The Florisbad skull (Homo helmei)

Florisbad 1 is a hominin fossil recovered by Prof. T.F. Dreyer from the depths of a warm lithium spring deposit in the Orange Free State, South Africa, in 1932. The skull consists of frontal and parietal pieces and an incomplete right side of the face (Conroy, 1997). In 1996 a direct date was obtained for the skull using electron spin resonance dating on two small samples of enamel removed from the only tooth to be found with the skull. These yielded a date of 259,000 +/- 35,000 years (Grun et al 1996).

The skull was originally classified as Homo helmei by Dreyer to mark its distinctiveness from other fossil Homo sapiens. It is now generally either described as “archaic Homo sapiens” or assigned to Homo heidelbergensis, but it may be an intermediate form between H. heidelbergensis and H. sapiens, in which case retention of the Homo helmei classification would be appropriate.

References:

Conroy G (1997): “Reconstructing Human Origins: A Modern Synthesis”, W.W. Norton & Co. Inc, New York, NY & London.

Grün, R., Brink, J.S., Spooner, N.A., Taylor, L., Stringer, C.B., Franciscus, R.B. & Murray, A. (1996): Direct dating of the Florisbad hominid. Nature 382: 500–501.

Lewin, R and Foley, R 2004: Principles of Human Evolution (2nd edition), Blackwell Science Ltd.

© Christopher Seddon 2008

The Kabwe skull (Homo rhodesiensis)

The Kabwe skull or Broken Hill 1 is a hominin fossil originally classified as Homo rhodesiensis. It was found in an iron and zinc mine in Broken Hill, Northern Rhodesia (now Kabwe, Zambia) in 1921 by a Swiss miner named Tom Zwiglaar. In addition to the skull, several postcranial bones were found including a femur and a tibia. The skull became known to anthropologists as Rhodesian Man but is now commonly referred to as the Broken Hill or Kabwe skull. The Kabwe skull is estimated to have a cranial capacity of 1,100cc. It has heavy brow ridges and a slightly keeled and constricted frontal bone.

The age of the remains are contentious, with secure dating impossible due to the destruction of geological context by mining activity. Archaic mammal species recovered with the skull suggest a date of 700,000-400,000 years old (Scarre, 2005). Conroy (1997) cites archaeological and palaeontological evidence that give a date of more than 125,000 years; Lewin & Foley (2004) give an age of “at least 200,000 years”.

The Kabwe skull was until recently classed as “archaic Homo sapiens” but is usually now classed as Homo heidelbergensis. Some authorities retain the H. rhodesiensis classification and reserve H. heidelbergensis for European hominins.

References:

Conroy G (1997): “Reconstructing Human Origins: A Modern Synthesis”, W.W. Norton & Co. Inc, New York, NY & London.

Lewin, R and Foley, R 2004: Principles of Human Evolution (2nd edition), Blackwell Science Ltd.

Scarre C (2005) (Ed): “The human past”, Thames & Hudson.

© Christopher Seddon 2008