The presence of a tool-using population on the edge of Europe so early hints that the northern continent, rather than Africa, may have been the evolutionary birthplace of H. erectus. Unfortunately, the fossils of the hominins responsible for making the tools are not proving very helpful to the debate.PNAS doi: 0.1073/pnas.1106638108
Fossilized bone fragments found in the same sedimentary layers as the Dmanisi artefacts are too weathered to be identified as belonging to any one species, so it is impossible to say for sure whether the tools were made by H. erectus.
Neither do fossil skulls previously retrieved from later sediments at the site help to resolve the controversy. These fossils, dating from 1.77 million years ago, had brains between 600 and 775 cubic centimetres in volume, whereas H. erectus is generally thought to have had an average brain size of around 900 cubic centimetres. For comparison, modern humans have a brain capacity of around 1,350 cubic centimetres. "Many people call those Dmanisi fossils the earliest H. erectus, but there is still frequent debate about this," explains Ferring.
Earliest human occupations at Dmanisi (Georgian Caucasus) dated to 1.85–1.78 Ma
Reid Ferring et al.
The early Pleistocene colonization of temperate Eurasia by Homo erectus was not only a significant biogeographic event but also a major evolutionary threshold. Dmanisi's rich collection of hominin fossils, revealing a population that was small-brained with both primitive and derived skeletal traits, has been dated to the earliest Upper Matuyama chron (ca. 1.77 Ma). Here we present archaeological and geologic evidence that push back Dmanisi's first occupations to shortly after 1.85 Ma and document repeated use of the site over the last half of the Olduvai subchron, 1.85–1.78 Ma. These discoveries show that the southern Caucasus was occupied repeatedly before Dmanisi's hominin fossil assemblage accumulated, strengthening the probability that this was part of a core area for the colonization of Eurasia. The secure age for Dmanisi's first occupations reveals that Eurasia was probably occupied before Homo erectus appears in the East African fossil record.