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6 May 2011
Heidelberg Man links humans and Neanderthals

The last common ancestor of humans and Neanderthals was a well-traveled species called Heidelberg Man, according to a new study.
     The evolutionary split between Neanderthals and modern humans may have occurred around 400,000 years ago. The determination is based on the remains of a single Heidelberg Man (Homo heidelbergensis) known as 'Ceprano,' named after the town near Rome, Italy, where his fossil - a partial cranium - was found. Previously, this 400,000-year-old fossil was thought to represent a new species of human, Homo cepranensis. The latest study, however, identifies Ceprano as being an archaic member of Homo heidelbergensis.
     The finding may shed light on what the species that gave rise to both Neanderthals and Homo sapiens looked like. Anthropologists believe Heidelberg Man was tall and had a strong jaw holding small teeth.
     Researchers believe that Homo heidelbergensis was widespread, dispersing throughout Eurasia and Africa beginning around 780,000 years ago. Good weather may have permitted Heidelberg Man's worldly lifestyle, favouring expansion and contacts between populations.
     While many eyes are on Heidelberg Man as being the likely common ancestor to Neanderthals and our species, the jury is still out as to where that pivotal evolution took place.

Edited from Discovery News (4 May 2011)

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