This Is “Skull 5”: A 1.8 Million-Years-Old Human Skull Forces Scientists To Rethink Early Human Evolution

2005 was the year scientists found a complete skull from an ancient human ancestor at Dmanisi (an archaeological site in southern Georgia), Europe. The skull is from an extinct human that lived 1.85 million years ago!

The Skull 5 (or D4500) is an archaeological specimen that has been preserved intact. It has large teeth, a long face and a small braincase. Scientists have had to reexamine the history of early human evolution because of this skull, one of five discovered in Dmanisi by ancient hominins.

According to the researchers, “the discovery provides the first evidence that early Homo comprised adult individuals with small brains but body mass, stature and limb proportions reaching the lower range limit of modern variation.”

Dmanisi is a town and archaeological site in the Kvemo Kartli region of Georgia approximately 93 km southwest of the nation’s capital Tbilisi in the river valley of Mashavera. The hominin site dates back to 1.8 million years.

In the early 2010s, a series of skulls with different physical characteristics was discovered at Dmanisi. This led to the hypothesis, that several species within the genus Homo were actually one lineage. And the Skull 5, or officially known as the “D4500” is the fifth skull to be discovered in Dmanisi.

Skull 5 in National Museum © MRU

Scientists believed that hominins were restricted to Africa for the entire Early Pleistocene (until around 0.8 million years ago), and only moved out in a phase called Out of Africa I. The vast majority of archaeological work was therefore disproportionately focused upon Africa.

The Dmanisi archaeological site, however, is the oldest hominin site outside of Africa. Its analysis of artifacts revealed that some hominins including the Homo georgicus georgicus, had left Africa at least 1.85 million years ago. The 5 skulls are approximately the same age.

Scientists have ruled out the Skull 5 being a normal Homo erectus variant. However, it is a common variant that has been identified as the Skull 5, which was presumably derived from human ancestors who are often found in Africa during the same time period. Some claim it is Australopithecus sediba, who lived in South Africa about 1.9 million years ago. This is the source of Homo, which includes modern humans.

Although there are many new possibilities that scientists have discussed, we are still not privy to the real face of our history.

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