Nature Science

Rare Hominin skull excavated in Ethiopia

Paleontologists have discovered a 3.8 million-year-old skull in Woranso-Mille, Ethiopia that reveals the face of a male Australopithecus anamensis.

Identified mainly by its projecting cheekbones and canine-esque teeth, the newfound hominin cranium provides new information about our earliest human ancestors.

Previously, the 3.2m-year-old iconic hominin bones of Australopithecus Afarensis, best known as before Lucy, served as the missing link in explaining the human evolutionary tree.

Rare Hominin skull excavated in Ethiopia
(© Yohannes Haile-Selassie, Courtesy of Cleveland Museum of Natural History)
Rare Hominin skull excavated in Ethiopia
Dale Omori & Liz Russell, Courtesy of Cleveland Museum of Natural History
Rare Hominin skull excavated in Ethiopia
What the individual Australopithecus anamensis could’ve looked like (Artist reconstruction by Matt Crow, Cleveland Museum of Natural History)

The Australopithecus Anamensis and Australopithecus Afarensis lived together for at least 100,000 years.

The leading scientist of the study, Yohannes Haile-Selassie, describes the unearthed skull a “game changer in our understanding of human evolution.”

The precious discovery of the Australopithecine as reported via Nature now represents the face of our oldest direct ancestor.

Rare Hominin skull excavated in Ethiopia
via @IFLScience/Facebook

However, when it comes to brains, it’s worth noting that humans evolved a unique and complex neocortex.

While the Neathanderals might have possessed bigger brains, it was the advancement of shared language and artistry that helped advance Homo Sapien’ cognitive and mental skills.

The superior cortex and hyper-connectedness of billions of neurons and synapses in the human brain also helped released humans from the prison of biology.

Photo: Frontiers in Neuroanatomy

Scientist Madeline Lancaster grows ‘mini-brains’

Neurological biologist Madeline Lancaster develops cerebral organoids or mini-brains, which she describes as “three-dimensional neural tissues generated from human stem cells which allow us to model human brain development.”

In other words, organoids can model the architecture of a human embryonic brain.

According to the Financial Times who interviewed the scientist, each organoid is about the size of a lentil.

The implications of Lancaster’s work are enormous, as are the ethics at stake.

She’s building a standalone brain, one that exists without a human body. That to me sounds like some potential hybrid between robot and human, aka cyborg.

Of course, the organoids don’t have a consciousness — at least yet. But Lancaster established a connection between organoid neurons and mouse neurons in tests. “In theory you could make a fully formed human brain in a pig,” said Lancaster.

Lancaster’s stem cell research could also one day treat neurological diseases, including autism, dementia, and epilepsy.

As Lancaster creates the future, obvious moral questions come up around the harvesting of brains with further testing on lab-approved animals. As a scientist, she is willing to drive the discussion over so-called mini-brains forward.