D4500: The 5th Dmanisi Skull

22 Oct

A paper has been by published by Lordkipanidze et al. (2013) in the journal Science which highlights the unique fossil finds at the Dmanisi palaeoanthropological site, in Georgia, of the cranial and post-cranial remains of 5 Homo erectus individuals.  In particular the paper discusses the morphological aspects of the fifth Dmanisi skull, D4500 and associated mandible D2600, as a remarkably well preserved find.  Discovered during field work at Dmanisi in 2005, D4500 and D2600 represents one of the best preserved and complete adult skulls of Early Pleistocene Homo fossils so far discovered and described (Lordkipanidze et al. 2013: 326).

The paper in question debates the morphological variation between the cranial remains of the five Homo erectus individuals at Dmanisi, suggesting that there is greater variation in the Homo genus than is typically given credit for.  The paper compares the five Dmanisi crania and their morphological variations between the individuals to early and later Homo species hominins (including early African Homo species and Homo neaderthalensis), modern Homo sapiens and extant apes (including Pan troglodytes).  The conclusions of the article suggest that there is wide variation within the early Homo palaeodeme of morphological variation, much more than has been noted or given credit for with perhaps too many species being named and described as individual species in the early Homo fossil record.  Lordkipanidze et al (2013:330) argue that the Dmanisi collection could represent evidence of the single lineage hypothesis for early Homo.  Of course this is a contentious issues and further research is needed, but this is exciting nonetheless.

There has been numerous online blog entries debating the article and its implication for the evolution of the Homo genus.  To my mind the articles linked to below perhaps sum up the best reactions and thoughts to the article, although I look forward to further peer-reviewed research being carried out.  Outlining the main issues from the article, and the evolutionary mechanism behind the variations present in the Homo genus, is Weiss’s article over at the The Mermaid’s Tale which is informative and exciting.  He also discusses the background to the one species hypothesis within Homo which Lordkipanidze et al. (2013) imply could be a possibility as a result of their study of D4500.  They also suggest it as a mechanism for phylogenetic continuity across continents for early Homo.  John Hawks presents critical comments on the article and evocatively describes just how well D4500 has survived and how beautiful and complete a specimen the individual actually is.  In particular Hawks offers his own interesting comments on early Homo evolution and the importance of understanding the many facets of evolution that are at work, including the genetic differences and how modern populations of Homo sapiens often provide poor comparative models for ancient Homo species.  At A. P. Van Arsdale’s blog there is a nice breakdown of the article itself, including just why the five crania at Dmanisi are so important and just what their discovery may mean for interpreting the hominin fossil record.

Now to end this brief blog post I think it is only right that I post a picture of the articulated skull of D4500 himself*.  It is a beautifully preserved specimen and one worth taking the time to ponder over.

dmanisi skull 5

The articulated individual known as D4500 (cranium) and D2600 (mandible) exhibiting a small braincase with a large prognathic face, found at the Georgian site of Dmanisi in 2005.  The skull also boasts of one of the best preserved basicranial of any Homo erectus known (Hawks 2013) although the dentition displays that most of the teeth were worn past their crowns. Source: Lordkipanidze et al. (2013: 327).

*It is likely that the individual is a male, but expected a flood of research to take place in the next few years on the Dmanisi individuals and their context within human evolution.

Further Information

  • A full list of scientific publications from the Dmanisi palaeoanthropological site can be found here on the official website (though I am unsure how often the site is updated).  The website has detailed information on the formation and geology of the site, including the hominins and the different species of fauna that have been found, plus you can still get a place to dig at the actual site!
  • Check out The Human Story’s take on a new 2014 article suggesting that there could possibly be two hominin lineages suggested at the Dmanisi site.


Hawks, J. 2013. The New Skull from Dmanisi. John Hawks Weblog. 18/10/2013.

Lordkipanidze, D., Ponce de León, M. S., Margvelashvili, A., Rak, Y., Rightmire, G. P., Vekua, A. & Zollikofer, C. P. E. 2013. A Complete Skull from Dmanisi, Georgia, and the Evolutionary Biology of Early Homo. Science.  342 (6156): 326-331. (Full article here, email if this doesn’t work).

Van Arsdale, A. P. 2013. The New (Wonderfu) Dmanisi Skull. The Pleistocene Scene-  A.P. Van Arsdale Blog. 17/10/2013.

Weiss, K. 2013.  How Many ‘Human’ Species are there? Is it even a Real Question?  Why does Anybody Care?  The Dmanisi SkullsThe Mermaid’s Tale.  21/10/2013.

17 Responses to “D4500: The 5th Dmanisi Skull”

  1. vertebraequeen October 22, 2013 at 12:11 pm #

    Reblogged this on HBPR and commented:
    This is incredible!

  2. thereviewer March 4, 2014 at 10:49 am #

    Just a heads-up but the link to the full list of scientific publications for Dmanisi redirects (on my PC at least!) to a Wikipedia entry on Bakelite!

    I think I’ll be writing more on the Dmanisi discussion in the near future, what a can of worms!

    • These Bones Of Mine March 4, 2014 at 11:00 am #

      Thank you! Shall double check each article now and edit. Hmm Bakelite? I think I was writing something else when I was writing the Dmanisi entry!

      It really is!

      • thereviewer March 5, 2014 at 9:16 am #

        I wasn’t meaning to be one of those annoyingly pedantic gits, moreover I just burst into laughter when the Bakelite page came up in my browser! Quality article and thanks for drawing my attention to the Weiss and Hawks entries on this paper.

        • These Bones Of Mine March 5, 2014 at 12:37 pm #

          I meant in that blog post, far too lazy to check each post of mine!

          Not at all my man, you did me a favour and it is much appreciated. (Haha I bet you did! Would have loved someone referencing Bakelite for Dmanisi though!). My pleasure, likewise to you about the potential for 2 species at Dmanisi – such an interesting and developing hominin site isn’t it!?

          • thereviewer March 6, 2014 at 9:22 pm #

            To be honest I’ve probably neglected Dmanisi in terms of where I have partitioned my time and effort reading papers. I have never really focussed my attention on it but as you say it keeps producing the goods! I never really fancied the idea of Homo georgicus, but until Skull 5 materialised I didn’t see the connections with Homo erectus either! Perceptions are always changing, that’s the best bit.

          • These Bones Of Mine March 7, 2014 at 1:13 am #

            Definitely, it is such an interesting site. However I think it can be hard to know what to focus more on with the plethora of articles towards the end of 2013 on Denisovan remains, the Altai (probable) Neandertal and the news from the Rising Star excavation (such a small site excavated so far but so many individual remains already!). I really wish that we could sequence or collect genetic evidence from Homo floresiensis, would be amazing to see where that species fit into the map.

            *edited for daft mistakes!

    • These Bones Of Mine March 4, 2014 at 11:04 am #

      Edited! Thank you for that 😀

      • Jamie Kendrick March 8, 2014 at 4:58 pm #

        I know many people who would love to know what secrets the genome of The Hobbit beholds! I think the poor preservation of the fossil will probably prevent any DNA ever being extracted, it has probably all degraded. If you returned to do a PhD what research area would it be? You seem so clued up on the Palaeo’ front I’m amazed you aren’t pursuing any ideas you have in that area…

        • These Bones Of Mine March 8, 2014 at 5:03 pm #

          Yes, sadly you are right. The environmental landscape of the hobbits (what a great name!) final resting place haven’t been particularly kind to aDNA preservation (even if it is a cave area!), but that’s the tropical environment for you. Ah thank you but it really is just a innate curiosity and a necessary branch of understanding human osteology (probably more of a main trunk then a branch!). My research ideas are more heading into the physical impairment/biogeochemical side, but to be honest I am interested in all sorts! Not enough time in the day….

        • These Bones Of Mine March 8, 2014 at 5:05 pm #

          I hope that on-going and future work of refining PCR and SNP techniques allow for a greater wiggle room for smaller chunks of aDNA to be studied!.


  1. Killer Whales: A BBC Natural World Documentary | These Bones Of Mine - October 26, 2013

    […] reminded of the Dmanisi Homo erectus fossils (Lordkipanidze et al. 2013) which were subject of the previous post.  Lordkipanidze et al. (2013: 330) postulate that the morphology of the 5 Homo erectus crania […]

  2. Lee Berger Talks About Rising Star Project | These Bones Of Mine - December 11, 2013

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    […] a year has passed since the revelatory unearthing of Skull 5 at the famous Georgian fossil site of Dmanisi. The discovery received much coverage in the blogosphere, therefore please refer to the following […]

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