In their bid to perfectly understand how Neanderthals or the last Neanderthal ancestor of modern man looked, scientists have reconstructed the skull of what he might have looked like in 3D, taking timelines that may have impacted his structural evolution into account.
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In a study published in the Journal of Human Evolution, scientists point out that modern humans or Homo sapiens common ancestry with Neanderthals before they went extinct, but the last common ancestor is what has captured the interest of evolution biologists who want to recreate what he must have looked like - the University of Cambridge Research reports.
Applying statistical algorithms and digital morphometrics to cranial fossils discovered over many years – 1.6 million-year-old Homo erectus fossil, cranium of Neanderthal discovered in Europe, and 19th century skulls at the Duckworth collection in Cambridge, scientists were able to plat 797 “landmarks” existing across all the skull samples discovered.
From these cranial landmarks, the scientists were able to reconstruct evolutionary framework that told the timeline under which these skulls may have changed in structure or morphology – these were fed into a computer to generate a digital image which compares with what our ancient ancestors must have looked like centuries ago.
Fragments of fossils on record show, based on the new digital rendition of the “virtual fossil” of the last ancestor, that the last ancestor must have lived in the Middle Pleistocene period around 700,000 years ago – originating in Africa even though the ancestral people may have also lived in Eurasia.
“We know we share a common ancestor with Neanderthals, but what did it look like? And how do we know the rare fragments of fossil we find are truly from this past ancestral population? Many controversies in human evolution arise from these uncertainties,” said the study’s lead author Dr. Aurélien Mounier, a researcher at Cambridge University’s Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies (LCHES).
Dr. Mounier also added that his team used 3D digital techniques and statistical estimation methods to iron out imperfections observed in fossil records of the last common ancestor of both Homo sapiens and Neanderthals. This allowed us to predict mathematically and then recreate virtually skull fossils of the last common ancestor of modern humans and Neanderthals, using a simple and consensual ‘tree of life’ for the genus Homo,” he said
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Having done so well with their model, Mounier and his team have now set out on another project to work out the structures of the last ancestor of both Homo and chimpanzees. “Our models are not the exact truth, but in the absence of fossils these new methods can be used to test hypotheses for any palaeontological question, whether it is horses or dinosaurs,” Mounier stated.