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Ancient Skull in South Africa reveals a lot about human evolution

By: Emma Ke

A skull discovered in South Africa is possibly over three million years old. The skull was initially found near the Sterkfontein cave system, a jackpot for ancient remains of many different creatures; most remains around the area are 2.6 million years old. This information led to scientists initially estimating that it was only 2.6-million-year-old, or even less. But after testing some of the mineral deposits around the skull, scientists believe that it could be between 3.4 to 3.7 million years old.

Scientists believe the skull is older than, or as ancient as, “Lucy,” the 3.2-million-year-old remains of a human. Lucy was one of the first sets of ancient human remains that scientists found; she was one of their “first steps” to learning about human evolution.

Nicknamed “Mrs. Ples,” the South African skull became a significant factor in studying the human evolution timeline. Even with quite a bit of information, it is hard to get an exact date for when Mrs. Ples was alive. But scientists were able to find out that “Mrs. Ples” was actually a “Mr. Ples” by examining it’s teeth.

Scientists usually look at the size of the canine teeth to distinguish the difference between male and female remains, but “Mrs. Ples’s” canine teeth had not been maintained. Its canine sockets remained intact and were the size of a female’s canine sockets. But after a closer examination, scientists realized that acid had been changing and reshaping the sockets for the past 60 years.

By comparing the skulls of the deceased from the past and present, we see the vast difference that millions of years of evolution have created. The Sterkfontein caves revealed to us this profound change over the millenia. Many other ancient remains were discovered there, in addition to Mrs. Ples. The caves give us more information about the timeline of the evolution of life, showing us remnants from three million years ago.

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