Human origins has long been an interest of mine, but clickbait headlines are one of my pet peeves. Consider the following headline: Skull Found In China Could Re-Write The ‘Out of Africa’ Theory of Human Evolution. Now consider this excerpt:
The important head, known as the Dali skull, was found 40 years ago in China. It was once a member of the early species – and our ancestor – the Homo erectus. It is surprisingly intact, with scientists still able to see the face and brain case as it would have been when its owner was living around 260,000 years ago.
It has strange similarities too with modern Homo sapiens. And the new research suggests that it has far more than expected in common with specimens found in Morocco.
Taken together, the research suggests that humans might not have evolved in Africa and then left, as has long been thought to be the case, researchers Xinzhi Wu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Sheela Athreya of Texas A&M University told the New Scientist. The similarities suggest that the early modern humans might not have been isolated in one place as their characteristics evolved, the scientists say, instead sharing characteristics across the world.
H. erectus is a species first described in 1891, so hardly a brand-new thing. They were a very successful species of human, persisting with very little change for over a million years. They were probably the first humans to use fire.
And it’s been quite a while now that paleoanthropologists have known that the picture of human evolution as very complex, with
populations overlapping and interbreeding. If you are of European or Asian descent, for example, your genome includes a not-insignificant percentage of Neandertal and possibly Denisovan DNA.
So, a more accurate headline here would be “A skull found decades ago has been discovered to to present some interesting new variations on the way early humans were thought to have developed.”
But, of course, that won’t get you as many clicks.