The Japan Times
September 9, 1999

Fossilized skull sold to N.Y. curio shop

Prehistoric cranium could provide important clues to human evolution


NEW YORK (Reuters) A prehuman fossilized skull that could yield important clues to the evolution of man has turned up in a New York City curio shop, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

The skull, a nearly complete cranium missing the upper and lower jaw, is likely that of a male Homo erectus in his 20s who walked on Earth between 300,000 and 1.7 million years ago, scientists have concluded.

The skull was sold in March to a shop called Maxilla and Mandible, which sells natural history curiosities and is located near the American Museum of Natural History.

It was brought to the shop by a man who said he represented the estate of a curio collector. Scientists have since examined the skull.

The newspaper said experts decided the skull is a genuine specimen from Indonesia and could yield important clues about how Homo erectus fits into the human family tree.

"It's a very interesting specimen because it's not like any other Homo erectus we know from Indonesia or anywhere else," said Eric Delson, a paleoantologist at Lehman College of the City University of New York, who led the investigation.

The skull apparently has some intriguing characteristics that differ slightly from most known specimens of Homo erectus, originally known as Java man and once thought to be a direct ancestor of Homo sapiens, or modern man.

Although the skull's brain size appears to be within range for Homo erectus — about half the size of a modern human's brain — its forehead is high like a Homo sapien's and not sloping like an earlier hominid's.

The inside surface of the skull also shows the brain had some structural resemblance to Homo sapiens that suggest a potential for speech. "Of course, it's only one individual, but it could represent a distinctive population. We just don't know," Delson told the Times.

HENRY GALIANO displays a replica of a fossilized skull believed to be that of a Homo erectus, as he compares it replica of a human skull at his curio shop in New York Tuesday.AP PHOTO