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World/National News

October 30, 2012

Finding sheds light on human evolution, archaeologist says

SAN MARCOS, Texas — The discovery of a human molar and of stone tools more than 1 million years old in South Africa might lead to a better understanding of human evolution, according to a Texas State University archaeologist.

These discoveries, published last month in the Journal of Human Evolution, are believed to reflect the time when humans became biologically different in South and East Africa. The molar shows this happened earlier than previously thought, well before 1 million years ago.

Texas State University professor Britt Bousman said the discoveries help fill gaps in scientists’ understanding of human evolution because little is known about humans who lived between 200,000 and 1.5 million years ago.

Bousman, the founder of the Texas State Center for Archaeological Studies, dated the site with the help of former Texas State graduate students Holly Meier and Deidra Aery, and others, using a process called paleomagnetism, which measures the intensity and placement of Earth’s magnetic field as preserved in certain minerals.

This magnetic information was preserved in the sediments, allowing the team to date the discoveries in the University of Texas’ Paleomagnetic Laboratory.

“Being able to date the human remains at Cornelia to 1 million years ago has been one of the most exciting experiences of my career,” Bousman said, referring to the archaeological site.

He has conducted archaeological studies in South Africa since the 1970s and has worked on more than 155 projects worldwide.

Meier, who is pursuing a doctorate in geoarchaeology at Baylor University, said when the human molar was discovered, the scientists at the site were euphoric.

“It’s quite a unique find, quite a feat,” she said.

James Brink, who led the excavation team, said the molar is not similar in size and shape to those of later humans living in that region.

The molar, characterized by its large size and thick enamel, also provides evidence that early humans were living over a wider range and longer in southern Africa than previously thought, Brink said.

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