Newly named human species may be the direct ancestor of modern humans

Homo Bodoensis could help us understand how our human lineages interacted around the world. (Image credit: Ettore Mazza)
Scientists have identified a new species which may have been the direct ancestor for modern humans.

Homo bodoensis, a new species proposed by scientists who lived in Africa more than half a century ago, may help us understand how human lineages interacted across the globe.

Modern humans, Homo sapiens, are the only human lineage that remains. However, there were other human species who once roamed Earth. Scientists recently discovered that the Indonesian island Flores once belonged to the extinct Homo floresiensis, also known as the "hobbit" due to its tiny body.

It is often difficult to decide whether an ancient set of fossils from human beings belongs to one or the other species. This topic is open to heated debate. Some researchers believe that the skeletal differences found between Neanderthals and modern humans indicate they are different species. Others argue that Neanderthals are not a single species because of the abundance of genetic evidence that Neanderthals and modern humans interbreed and produced fertile offspring.

Similar: 10 Things We Learned About Our Human Ancestors in 2020

Researchers analyzed fossils of human beings that date back to approximately 774,000 years ago. This period was once known as the Middle Pleistocene, but has been renamed the Chibanian. Research has suggested that modern humans emerged in Africa during this period, while Neanderthals appeared in Eurasia. But, paleoanthropologists still don't know much about this crucial chapter of human evolution. This is what they call the "muddle in between".

Many of the Chibanian-era human remains from Africa and Eurasia can be assigned to either Homo heterodesiensis or Homo sheidelbergensis. Both species had multiple definitions, sometimes contradictory, of their skeletal characteristics and other traits.

Recent DNA evidence shows that fossils called H. heidelbergensis in Europe are actually Neanderthals. Scientists noted that H. heidelbergensis was a redundant term in these cases.

Homo bodoensis is a new species that was discovered to be a human ancestor. It lived in Africa during the middle Pleistocene. (Image credit: Ettore Mazza)

The researchers also stated that recent analysis of fossils from East Asia suggests they shouldn't be called H. heidelbergensis. Many facial features and other characteristics found in the Chibanian East Asian fossils of human beings are different from those in European or African fossils of the same era.

Chibanian fossils found in Africa from Chibanian are also sometimes called H. heidelbergensis or H. rhodesiensis. H. rhodesiensis, according to scientists, was a poorly-defined label that was not widely accepted in science due in part its association with Cecil Rhodes, an English imperialist.

Researchers now propose H. bodoensis as a new species to help with this confusion. It is named after a 600,000.year-old skull discovered in Bodo D'ar in Ethiopia in 1976. The new name would include fossils that were previously identified as H. heidelbergensis and H. rhodesiensis. Researchers suggest that H. bodoensis is the direct ancestor to H. sapiens. They form a separate branch of the human family tree from the one that gave birth to the Neanderthals.

Mirjana Roksandic (a co-lead author of the study) said that giving a new name for a species is always controversial. She is a paleoanthropologist at University of Winnipeg, Canada. It will live and survive if people use it.

Homo bodoensis is named after a 600,000.-year-old Ethiopian skull. (Image credit: Ettore Mazza)

H. bodoensis, a new classification, will describe all Chibanian human remains from Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean. Many European Chibanian human remains from Europe would be reclassified to Neanderthals. H. heidelbergensis, H. rhodesiensis names would disappear. With more research, the names of human fossils from East Asia such as the Chibanian Chibanian may be given.

Roksandic stated that "we are not claiming we can rewrite human history." She explained that the researchers are trying to arrange the variation in ancient humans "in such a way as to make it possible to discuss its origins and what it represents." These differences can help us understand movement, interaction.

Roksandic stated that the researchers hope to find H. bodoensis specimens from Europe in the future.

The scientists presented their findings online on Thursday, Oct. 28, in Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues News and Reviews.

Original publication on Live Science