Georgia clues to human origins
( BBC ) - A team of scientists working in Georgia has unearthed the remains of four human-like creatures dating to 1.8 million years ago.
In the journal Nature, the researchers outline details of the partial skeletons uncovered in a Medieval town.
The bones reveal a mixture of primitive and advanced features, team leader David Lordkipanidze explained.
These early hominids may have been among the first to leave Africa to colonise the rest of the world.
Discovered in the early 1990s, the Dmanisi site has proved a rich source of remains and artefacts from the dawn of the Pleistocene period.
Studying the various skulls and jaws has given scientists important information about the early species that lived here.
But, until now, they had little information about the rest of the skeleton.
The remains uncovered at the town of Dmanisi consist of the partial skeleton of an adolescent individual associated with a skull, and the "post-cranial" remains of three adults.
The specimens are among the oldest hominids to be found outside Africa.
In many respects, the well-preserved fossils resemble Homo erectus, a species from the genus Homo that first appeared in Africa some two million years ago and quickly spread throughout Europe and much of Asia.
They have remarkably human-like spines and lower limbs that would have been well suited for long distance travel. Their feet had well-developed arches.
An apparently small difference in the size of males and females also puts them in the same company as Homo erectus and Homo sapiens.
However, they also have relatively small brains and primitive upper limbs, traits which they share with the earlier Homo habilis, and even with the more primitive Australopithecus, which first appeared in Africa some four million years ago.