Fossils and Migration Patterns in Early Hominids

Authors: John Banister-Marx
Woodrow Wilson Biology Institute

Target age or ability group: 7-12
Class time required: One or two class periods. This activity can be done individually or in groups. The teacher may choose to have each student plot their own points on a small (8.5 x 11) black and white world map at home (the next day used for class discussion/review) or in class (two days), or divide the given set of data among the lab teams so that each team plots the points on a large world map using colored and/or numbered push pins. On a large world map, class time could be conserved by having each of the teams send a representative to the board to plot the data points or each individual in the class might be given two or three data points to plot. With recommended activities before and after, this could take four to six days.
Materials and equipment: Small (8.5 x 11) black and white world maps with numerical latitude and longitude axes and/or large world map (approximately 4 x 6 feet or larger), colored pencil sets and/or colored push pins (4 colors - box of at least 100), and atwo-page student-ready handout for each student.
Summary of activity: Students will be plotting the general distribution of major fossil hominid taxa on a small (8.5 x 11) black and white world map and/or plotting color coded push pins on a large world map at the front of the classroom on a large world map. This activity integrates skills learned in geography with science concepts relating to the origin of hominids and a likely migration route from that point of origin. Students discuss/debate hypotheses about the origin and movement of prehuman ancestors, and weigh the significance of the data to determine which hypothesis best explains the data. This is an especially good activity for clarifying the importance of inference based on the analysis of patterns in data, and the tentative nature of scientific inquiry.
Prior knowledge, concepts or vocabulary necessary to complete activity: Students need to have knowledge of latitude and longitude in order to plot the locations of the fossils sampled. Students would benefit greatly if they had some experience comparing the anatomy and relative ages of fossil hominids either from resin casts or from pictures.
Teacher instructions:
Decide on whether you prefer this to be a group activity or an individual exercise, or both. Remind students to enter Austalopithecines as a "1", Homo erectus as a "2", H. s. neandertalensis as a "3" and a H.s. sapiens as a "4" on their personal maps. If plotting the points on a large classroom map, pick the color coding for each fossil taxa and post it on the board (i. e. Austalopithecines = blue, etc.) and cross off the specimens on your teacher sheet as each pin is placed to prevent repeats. You might even want to use a permanent marker to number each colored pushpin (1-4 as above) to make sure that the data is clearly plotted on the large world map. Plotting of the 56 points as a class may take 20-30 minutes. Students may work in lab teams or as individuals to complete the location of sites. Once all the points have been plotted, let the students work in teams to analyze the distribution, and from it, answer the discussion questions. If you decide to have students do this as a group exercise in class, remember that students can not answer the discussion at home without a map, so extra time may be needed for completion of the discussion. Day 2 is for the completion and review of discussion questions, or you may choose to postpone review of the discussion until after a day or two of reading an article or watching a video that may help students to refine the answers to their questions.

To precede this activity teachers might find it useful to use an activity comparing fossil crania . Measuring and comparing cranial indexes of fossil hominid resin casts is very, very powerful. You may try to borrow resin casts from a local university. Get Australopithecus boisei, Homo erectus, A. africanus, H. sapiens neanderthalensis, early modern H. sapiens sapiens (Predmost), a modern adult female gorilla and a contemporary human for the most complete anatomical comparisons). If you can't get actual resin casts, get appropriate illustrations. After looking at the specimens, show the National Geographic video Mysteries of Mankind or any single part (I recommend part two) of the three part series entitled In Search of Human Origins featuring Donald Johansen. Any article, such as How Man Began, TIME. March 14,1994, on the debate over the multi-regional and Eve hypotheses for the origin of modern Homo sapiens would be excellent to follow this activity and precede the discussion (at least the last 2 discussion questions) along with perhaps the NOVA video Children of Eve.

Introduction: Discoveries of fossil hominids around the world have helped scientists to determine not only a likely origin for the human species, but also a migration path throughout the world. Until the 1920's, Asia had been considered the "birthplace" of humans. Yet one man stood alone in his conviction that Asia was not the birthplace of humankind. This man was Louis S. B. Leakey. For several decades he searched the weathered desert slopes of Olduvai Gorge, looking along what had been the shores of an ancient lake once vital to the survival of many prehistoric animals. Eventually, his hunch paid off and his heretical views were confirmed with fossil evidence of early hominids, early members of humankind. Since then, other fossil hominids have been found by many other paleoanthropologists throughout much of the world. It is the type, dates, and distribution of these fossil specimens that gives us an indication of where humankind's earliest ancestors had migrated and originated.

Purpose:Using a knowledge of geography and mapping skills, students will determine the location of a sampling of fossil hominids to infer a continent of origin and a likely path of migration from that point of origin.

Procedure:Examine the data below and plot each coordinate. Though this list is not an exhaustive list of all fossil hominid discoveries, it is accurate in terms of general trends of distribution and density within given regions. Mark your map by using the code: "1" for Austalopithecines, "2" for Homo erectus, "3" for Homo sapiens neadertalensis, and "4" for early modern Homo sapiens sapiens. Write the numbers directly on your small personal map or use different colored pushpins (choose one color for each of the four taxonomic groupings below) for a large, classroom map . Then answer the discussion.

Data:-- fossil taxon (age in millions of years ago): location in degrees east or west longitude and north or south latitude, and name of site)

Australopithecines (3.5 -1.4 mya): 38°E :1°S Chemeron, 27°E: 27°S Sterkfontein, 43°E: 8°NHadar, 37°E: 4°S Olduvai, 36°E:5°°S Laetoli, 36o°E:7°N Omo, Kromdrai 26°E:26°S, 28°E:25°S Magapansgat, 27°E: 27°S Swartkrans, 38°E:4°N Koobi-Fora

Homo erectus (1.6 -.3 mya) 112°E:38°N Zhoukoudian, 112°E:8°S Modjokerto 18°E:18°N Yayo, 7°W:34°N Rabat, 38°E:4°N Koobi-Fora, 6°W:35°N Sale, 13°E:47°N Mauer, 27°E: 27°S Swartkrans, 27°E: 27°S Sterkfontein, 43°E: 8°NHadar, 37°E: 4°S Olduvai, 36°E:7°N Omo

Homo sapiens neandertalensis (.13 -.03 mya) 36°E:33°N Amud, 110°E: 7°S Solo, 8°E:32°S Saldanha, 27°E:14°S Broken Hill, 68°E:41°N Teshik-Tash, 5°W: 35°N Gibralter, 44°E:36°N Shanidar, 2°W:52°N Swanscombe, 11°E:47°N Steinheim, 7°E: 52°N Neandertal, 34°E:45°N Kiik-Koba, 5°W: 32°N Jebel-Irhoud

Early modern Homo sapiens sapiens ( .1 - .02 mya i.e.Cro-magnon): 38°E:50°N Sungir, 3°E:43°N Lascaux, 18°E:48°N Predmost, 70°E: 62°N, 36°E:35°N Tabun,30°S:24°E Florisbad, 138°E:34°S Lake Mungo, 115°E:1°N Niah, 112°E: 38°N Zhoukoudian, 137°E:38°N , 99°W: 19°N Tepexpan, 75°W:2°N Punin, 120°W:44°N Marmes, 100°E:54°N, 70°E:23°N, 108°E:27°N, 32°E:27°S Border Cave, 35°E:32°N Jebel Qafzeh, 44°W:18°S Lagoa Santo, 88°W:32°N Natchez, 102°W:32°N Midland, 81°W: 27°N Vero Beach


1.How many years ago is .3 million years?__________________. .02 million years?_______________.

2. Why have scientists concluded that Africa is the "birthplace" of humanity?

3.Find a fossil and write its type (taxon) and map coordinates for each of the following locations below:

a. China -
b. United States -
c. Mexico -
d. Australia -
e. Brazil-
f. Java -
g. Germany -
h. Ethiopia -
i. Iraq-
j. South Africa-

4.Which fossil taxon seems to have the earliest wide distribution throughout much of the old world? How did they get to these places? Pick two sites that are widely separated and infer the relative age of each specimen. (Which one is older than the other and explain your reasoning.)

5.Neanderthal seems to be most prominent in which area of the old world?

6.Early modern Homo sapiens sapiens were the first hominids to enter into which continent(s)? Choose one and infer a possible path of migration.

7.Where is the greatest coexistence between Neandertals and early modern Homo sapiens sapiens likely to have occurred? Explain how this may have contributed to the extinction of Neandertals.

8.Describe the overall migration pattern of humans and prehuman ancestors based on the data that you plotted on the map.

9. How long would it take you to hike from Ethiopia to Java? Why is it unlikely that Homo erectus made the journey in the same amount time? (Show your calculations)

Answer the next two questions after reading an article like How Man Began. TIME. March 14, 1994 and/or viewing a video like Children of Eve. (NOVA) .

10. Do the data plotted seem to support the Out of Africa ("Eve") hypothesis or the Multi-regional origin of modern humans? Justify your reasoning.

11. Why would an accurate chronometric age for all fossil specimens be important in the formulation of your answer to question #7?

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