Broken Hill skull is ‘only’ 300,000 years old
The Broken Hill (Kabwe 1) skull is one of the best-preserved fossils of the early human species Homo heidelbergensis and was estimated to be about 500,000 years old.
Professor Rainer Grün from the Environmental Futures Research Institute led the team which analysed the skull and other fossil human remains found in the vicinity including a tibia and femur midshaft fragment. The material is curated at the Natural History Museum in London, where collaborators Professor Chris Stringer and Senior Curator Michael Rumsey work. Negotiations between British and Zambian officials regarding repatriation are on-going.
Discovered in 1921 by miners in Zambia, the Broken Hill remains have been difficult to date due to their haphazard recovery and the site being completely destroyed by quarrying.
Using radiometric dating methods, the new analyses now puts the skull at a relatively young date, estimating it is between 274,000 and 324,000 years old.
The research also suggests that human evolution in Africa around 300,000 years ago was a much more complex process, with the co-existence of different human lineages.
Professor Stringer said: “Previously, the Broken Hill skull was viewed as part of a gradual and widespread evolutionary sequence in Africa from archaic humans to modern humans. But now it looks like the primitive species Homo naledi survived in southern Africa, H. heidelbergensis was in Central Africa, and early forms of our species existed in regions like Morocco and Ethiopia.”