Wednesday, February 09, 2011

THE NAKED SCIENTIST - Giants in Africa - homo heidelbergensis

Our Story: Human Ancestor Fossils

Professor Lee Burger, University of Witwatersrand

One of the fantastic opportunities we had in South Africa was to visit the collection of fossils at Witwatersrand University. They have a collection of about 30% of the fossils found in Africa that tell us about how we evolved from ape-like creatures into modern humans. Professor Lee Berger took us though some of the highlights of the collection, piecing together three million years of evolution in the process. One of the most interesting things that the fossil record reveals is that we went through a period of extreme giantism. These were people routinely over 7ft tall, they were huge. This was before we turned into the modern humans of today.

Lee - You’ve probably heard the myth that ancient humans were tiny and some of them were tiny. But, as we moved through the period of 0.5 million to 300,000 years ago in Africa we move into the sort of mystery period where there’s just a tiny handful of fossils. The ones we find from that part are incredibly intriguing. By this time you’re going to begin seeing Neanderthals in Europe. Inside of Africa they go through one of the most incredible things that we’ve only just begun to realise. They go through a period of giantism. What I’m pulling out of this bag may shock you!

Chris - Oooh!

Lee - Hahaha.

Chris - What we’re looking at is the most enormous femur: the bit that forms your hip joint. That’s huge. As a doctor I know how big they normally are, that’s huge.
[read more at THE NAKED SCIENTIST]

listen to the interview

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