(Photo: REUTERS/Jose Manuel Ribeiro)
A recently discovered skull in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia may challenge the traditional notions of human evolution.
Researchers writing for Science Magazine found skulls at Dmanisi, one of which bore a strong resemblance to skeletons found in Africa from the time period.
The significance? The various species predating Homo Sapiens may have been subsets of the same species rather than different species as the traditional evolutionary theory posits.
"The Dmanisi sample, which now comprises five crania, provides direct evidence for wide morphological variation within and among early Homo paleodemes," reads the article's abstract in part.
"This implies the existence of a single evolving lineage of early Homo, with phylogeographic continuity across continents."
Christoph Zollikofer, researcher with Zurich's Anthropological Institute and Museum who coauthored the article, called it "an extraordinary find in many respects."
"Had the braincase and the face of Skull 5 been found as separate fossils at different sites in Africa, they might have been attributed to different species," said Zollikofer, as reported by NBC News.
"Since we see a similar pattern and variation in the African fossil record ... it is sensible to assume that there was a single Homo species at that time in Africa…And since the Dmanisi hominids are so similar to the African ones, we further assume that they both represent the same species."
As expected, the find is not without its critics. Casey Luskin, co-author of the book Science and Human Origins and a spokesman for the Discovery Institute, told The Christian Post that he was skeptical of the skull's significance.
"Just about every six months a new fossil is found that 'rewrites' the story of human evolution," said Luskin.
"This is the skull of a previously known species (Homo erectus), from a time period when we already knew this species existed. It does not contribute hardly anything 'new' to the spotty case for human evolution."
Donald Johanson, the Arizona State University paleoanthropologist who discovered the famous "Lucy" find in East Africa, told NBC News that he doubted the find would alter the traditional species model.
"I think it's probably premature to dump everything into Homo erectus…This is what you're going to find the most opposition to," said Johanson.