University of Winnipeg paleoanthropologists Dr. Mirjana Roksandic and an international team of researchers have discovered and named a new ancient ancestor to modern humans. The ancient human ancestor is Homo bodoensis, and it lived in Africa during the Middle Pleistocene era, which was about half a million years ago.
Homo bodoensis was a direct ancestor to modern humans and came from the same era of history that gave rise to modern humans, the species known as Homo sapiens. However, the evolution of humans during this ancient era is not well understood, something that paleoanthropologists call “the muddle in the middle.”
The discovery of the new human ancestor helps to clarify the mysterious portion of human evolution. Researchers chose the name for the species after reassessing fossils from Africa and Eurasia from the Middle Pleistocene. The fossils were typically assigned to Homo heidelbergensis or Homo rhodesiensis. The challenge for scientists with these two groups is that they had multiple and frequently contradictory definitions.
DNA evidence has shown that some of the fossils found in Europe called H. heidelbergensis were actually early Neanderthals. Bodoensis, as a name, comes from a skull found in Bodo D’ar, Ethiopia, and the species is a direct human ancestor. The new term Homo bodoensis will be used to describe most Middle Pleistocene humans discovered in Africa and some discovered in Southeast Europe.
Many of those from Southeast Europe will be classified as Neanderthals. The researchers point out that changing names is very difficult and is only done under a specific set of circumstances. However, they believe the new Homo bodoensis name will last, but the caveat is other researchers have to use it.