A virtual model of the skull of the possible last common ancestor of all modern humans is presented in Nature Communications this week. The findings may provide insights into the complex evolution of Homo sapiens.
Aurelien Mounier and Marta Mirazon Lahr studied 263 skulls, representing 21 current human populations and five fossil hominin populations, using a phylogenetic modelling method to recreate the hypothetical, virtual skull of the last common ancestor to all modern humans. The authors then compared their virtual ‘fossil’ to five African hominin fossils from the Late Middle Pleistocene (approximately 350,000 to 130,000 years ago) to assess how the populations these fossils came from may have had a role in the origins of H. sapiens.
The authors suggest that these lineages did not contribute equally to the origin of H. sapiens. Their results support the view that our species may have originated from the coalescence of south and, potentially, east-African source populations. They argue that a northern African origin is less likely because one of the fossils studied, Irhoud 1, is morphologically closer to the Neanderthals.