by Cliff Lillo

In the Los Angeles Times for March 22, 2001, Science Writer Robert Lee Hotz revealed that “researchers in Kenya had unearthed a battered but almost complete skull of a new human species with a surprisingly delicate face dating from 3.5 million years ago.” Neglecting for the moment the age of the skull, a very important point is that term “delicate face” which the writer explains as flat face.

The team that discovered the skull included Meave Leakey, research assistant Justus Ertus (the actual finder), and other colleagues; they named the small-brained creature Kenyathropus platyops, meaning the flat-faced man of Kenya.

Usually hominids are described as having a protruding jaw so that they may appear as intermediate between pre-man and Homo erectus. Modern man could be described as having a “flat face.” So, what is such a being doing in strata supposedly 3.5 million years old?

Hotz says, “its tiny teeth, distinctive jaw structure, and relatively modem face set it apart from the only other early human species known to have been alive at that period.” Andrew Hill, curator of anthropology at Yale University’s Peabody Museum, commented, “It is a really odd thing with an unanticipated set of characteristics. The flat face to me is odd. This isn’t particularly apelike. You tend to expect early hominids to look more like chimpanzees.” Hotz continued, “Leakey suggested that it was not much taller than a modem chimpanzee and may have weighed as much as 55 pounds. Its brain may have been no larger than that of an ape.”

Who was it that decided how old the creature would be? According to Hotz, “the skull was first spotted . . . protruding from a layer of mudstone that had concealed and protected it for millenniums.” Hotz also said that Frank Brown, University of Utah geologist, helped determine the age of the rocks in which the fossil bone fragments were found.

We need to learn more about the strata in which the skull was found because very little information was given about how its age was determined. But, on the basis of what is given above, would it be too unusual to find the skull of a man in Africa who may have weighed as much as 55 pounds when alive? Adult pygmies grow to a height of about 51 to 60 inches. They live in central Africa, as well as in the Malay Peninsula, the Philippine Islands, central New Guinea, and Andaman Islands of India. Their faces are distinctly modern in appearance. Maybe Meave Leakey and her crew did not discover a new human species after all.

 

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