Dating the skull from Broken Hill, Zambia, and its position in human evolution
The cranium from Broken Hill (Kabwe) was recovered from cave deposits in 1921, during metal ore mining in what is now Zambia1. It is one of the best-preserved skulls of a fossil hominin, and was initially designated as the type specimen of Homo rhodesiensis, but recently it has often been included in the taxon Homo heidelbergensis2–4. However, the original site has since been completely quarried away, and—although the cranium is often estimated to be around 500 thousand years old5–7—its unsystematic recovery impedes its accurate dating and placement in human evolution. Here we carried out analyses directly on the skull and found a best age estimate of 299 ± 25 thousand years (mean ± 2σ). The result suggests that later Middle Pleistocene Africa contained multiple contemporaneous hominin lineages (that is, Homo sapiens8,9, H. heidelbergensis/H. rhodesiensis and Homo naledi10,11), similar to Eurasia, where Homo neanderthalensis, the Denisovans, Homo floresiensis, Homo luzonensis and perhaps also Homo heidelbergensis and Homo erectus12 were found contemporaneously. The age estimate also raises further questions about the mode of evolution of H. sapiens in Africa and whether H. heidelbergensis/H. rhodesiensis was a direct ancestor of our species13,14.