Meet the direct ancestor of modern humans: Homo bodoensis
This is Homo bodoensis – the direct ancestor of modern humans.
He lived in Africa, Europe and western Asia about half a million years ago.
H. bodoensis was the first species to build shelters out of wood and rock – and hunt big game with wooden spears.
The discovery is based on a fresh analysis of fossilised bones unearthed in Africa and Eurasia.
They date back to roughly the same time – and had been assigned to Homo heidelbergensis or Homo rhodesiensis.
The early humans were believed to be distinct – and carried multiple and often contradictory definitions.
But they were in fact one and the same species, according to the new research.
H. bodoensis roamed Earth during the Middle Pleistocene – a period that saw the rise of Homo sapiens in Africa and the Neanderthals in Europe.
Evolution during this age is poorly understood – a problem which palaeoanthropologists have dubbed ‘the muddle in the middle’.
The announcement of H. bodoensis brings clarity to the puzzling but vital chapter in our family tree.
Lead author Dr Mirjana Roksandic, of the University of Winnipeg in Canada, said: ‘Talking about human evolution during this time period became impossible due to the lack of proper terminology that acknowledges human geographic variation.’
H. bodoensis had a short, stocky body adapted to conserve heat in colder climates. Males were about 5 ft 9 in tall and weighed almost 10 stone while females averaged 5 ft 2 in (157 cm) and around 8 stone.
The species went extinct around 200,000 years ago – long before modern humans migrated out of Africa.
Recent DNA evidence has shown some European fossils identified as H. heidelbergensis were actually early Neanderthals.
Co author Dr Xiu-Jie Wu, of the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology, Beijing, said: ‘For the same reason, the name needs to be abandoned when describing fossil humans from east Asia.’
African fossils dated to this period have been called both H. heidelbergensis and H. rhodesiensis – further confusing the narrative.
H. rhodesiensis is poorly distinguished and has never been fully accepted – partly due to its association with imperialist Cecil Rhodes. The Victorian mining magnate helped colonise Africa. Southern and Northern Rhodesia have since been renamed Zimbabwe and Zambia.
The name ‘bodoensis’ derives from a skull dug up in Bodo D’ar, Ethiopia, in 1976.
Hand axes and cleavers, along with bones, were also found at the site – suggesting H. bodoensis butchered animals.
Dr Roksandic said: ‘The new species is understood to be a direct human ancestor.’
It will describe most Middle Pleistocene humans from Africa and some from Southeast Europe – with many being reclassified as Neanderthals.
Co first author Dr Predrag Radovic, of the University of Belgrade, Serbia, said: ‘Terms need to be clear in science, to facilitate communication. They should not be treated as absolute when they contradict the fossil record.’
The Middle Pleistocene – also known as the Chibanian – lasted from 774,000 to 129,000 years ago.
Co authors Prof Christopher Bae, an anthropologist at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, said H. bodoensis will ‘cut the Gordian knot and allow us to communicate clearly about this important period in human evolution.’
Neanderthals, our closest cousins, emerged roughly 430,000 years ago – about 130 years before modern humans.
Dr Roksandic added: ‘Naming a new species is a big deal, as the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature allows name changes only under very strictly defined rules.
‘We are confident this one will stick around for a long time, a new taxon name will live only if other researchers use it.’
The findings were published in the journal Evolutionary Anthropology Issues News and Reviews.