200,000-year-old human hair found in dung in South Africa

May 10th, 2009 - 2:53 pm ICT by ANI  

London. May 10 (ANI): Palaeontologists have discovered strands of hair belonging to a human who lived 200,000 years ago in fossilised hyena dung from a cave in South Africa.

Dr Lucinda Backwell, a palaeontologist at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, who led the team that found the hair, found 40 strands of fossilised hair preserved inside the dung after hyaenas scavenged the remains of the human.

“This find is so unusual as the human fossil record at this time is exceedingly poor, and of course hair is relatively fragile and degrades easily. It is the first non-bony material in the early hominid fossil record,” the Telegraph quoted Backwell as saying.

“As analytical techniques become more advanced they could shed light on what the person looked like, their state of health, and other aspects that cannot be investigated with current technologies,” Backwell added.

Boffins, including those from York University and University of Bradford, think that the hair may have been those of an early human species known as Homo heidelbergensis, who lived around 200,000 years ago in Africa.

Experts also think it could also belong to the first Homo sapiens, believed to have evolved around 195,000 years ago but the possibility that it could come from a totally new human species was also not ignored.

Dr Kirsty Penkman from York University tried to extract DNA and protein from the hair samples but without any luck, but researchers were crossing their fingers that fossilised dung may lend a helping hand in providing more examples of ancient human remains.

Backwell added: “Brown hyaenas are scavengers, not hunters, so the hominid was dead by the time the hyena came upon it.

“It would appear that predator dung could be a good source of human hair in the fossil record.

“The contents of such dung could shed light on the ancient environments where early humans and their ancestors once lived.” (ANI)

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