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Fossil finds may challenge theories

Reid Ferring, professor and chair of the Department of Geography and a member of an international research team working in the Republic of Georgia, says early human fossils discovered there may eventually challenge prevailing scientific theories of human evolution and human migration out of Africa.

In August 2001 the team unearthed an early human skull from the same strata in which it previously discovered other significant human fossil remains at a unique archaeological site below the ruins of the medieval town of Dmanisi in southern Georgia.

Ferring is one of the major authors of an article discussing the importance of the new find in the July 5 issue of Science.

He emphasizes it is too early to reach firm conclusions about what the site indicates regarding human evolution, early human migration and development of stone tool technology. However, in comparing information about the 2001 specimens with the previous Dmanisi human fossils, Ferring is intrigued by the possibility that the early human community at the site was far more diverse than anyone could have predicted.

He and his colleagues report that the characteristics of the new skull place it among the most primitive individuals so far assigned to Homo erectus or to any species indisputably human.

He says the skull and other bones that appear to have come from the same individual are closely related to Homo habilis (an earlier, more primitive, smaller-brained human species), previously found only in Olduvai Gorge and Koobi Fora in Africa. No other specimen even generally resembling Homo habilis has ever been found outside of Africa.

Among the 1.75 million-year-old human fossils previously unearthed, the scientific team has identified skulls that resemble Homo ergaster and a jaw bone that falls well within the range of Homo erectus. Homo ergaster is a species more advanced than habilis but more primitive than erectus.

“One of the puzzles yet to be solved at Dmanisi,” Ferring says, “is that individuals showing traits of all three early human species appear to have been living there at the same time. This was completely unexpected, because until now, prevailing scientific views placed habilis, ergaster and erectus into an evolutionary sequence.”

Since 1993, Ferring has worked summers at Dmanisi with other scientists from the Republic of Georgia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the United States. The group also includes student workers from around the world.

The Dmanisi discoveries have contradicted previous theories that physical changes in height and speed or advances in stone technology were necessary for humans to have left Africa for Eurasia. Ferring says the fossils and tools from Dmanisi show clearly that other factors were involved. New kinds of social organization or possibly greater reliance on meat as a staple in colder environments may explain how these early humans succeeded in the exploration of Eurasia.

“A lot of hard work separates us from answers to the many new questions Dmanisi has provided,” he explains.

The environmental issues surrounding these earliest migrations are very significant. The thousands of animal fossils from Dmanisi reveal a much more African-like setting than exists in Georgia today. Bones of rhinoceroses, giraffes, saber-toothed cats, elephants and horses show that these people may have found quite familiar landscapes in Georgia. At the same time, fossil remains of deer, pigs, bears and wolves reflect the nearby forests of Georgia’s mountainous regions.

Ferring’s research is funded by grants from the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation and the National Science Foundation.

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Ribbon cutting opens research park

From left, Denton Mayor Euline Brock (’74 Ph.D.), UNT System Regent C. Dan Smith (’62), U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey and Regents Gayle Strange (’67) and George Pepper cut the ribbon Aug. 14 symbolizing the opening of the UNT Research Park.

U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey was the guest of honor and principal speaker at the ceremonial ribbon cutting to open the new UNT Research Park Aug. 14.

The ceremony was held at the former Texas Instruments
property, four miles from the main Denton campus near the juncture of U.S. Highway 77 and Loop 288, just east of Interstate 35.

The park will house the new UNT College of Engineering, research activities and a number of administrative activities that will be moved from the university’s main Denton campus. It also will serve as a venue for UNT to form partnerships with high-tech corporations and other businesses in expanding research activities and capabilities in the North Texas area.

UNT purchased the TI property, which features four interconnected two-story buildings of some 550,000 gross square feet, for $8.9 million in November to serve as a research park and as the home of UNT's new College of Engineering.

"I applaud UNT's commitment to a college of engineering and its creation of a research park. Both actions are major steps forward in the strengthening of the university and its future impact on the economic development of the entire North Texas region," Armey said at the ceremony.

UNT President Norval Pohl says the facility provides "outstanding potential."

"With authorization from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to initiate an engineering college, UNT is poised to assist the state of Texas in the critical task of widening and deepening the pool of workers in science, engineering and technology fields," Pohl says.

"Our new engineering programs will provide valuable research and developmental expertise to the Texas high-technology industries, and particularly to firms located throughout the North Texas region — which is the single largest population center in Texas," Pohl says.

The UNT College of Engineering is expected to admit its first students in the 2003-04 academic year. UNT expects to have 650 engineering students by 2007 and 1,250 engineering students by 2010. When the college opens, it will comprise three departments: the Department of Engineering Technology, the Department of Computer Science and Engineering and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

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Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf to speak

Photo of Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf
Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf

Retired Army Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf will speak on “Leadership in Difficult Times” at the UNT Murphy Enterprise Center Leadership Luncheon Nov. 15. The event is scheduled from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Hotel Inter-Continental in Dallas.

Schwarzkopf is best known for his service as commander in chief of the U.S. Central Command and commander of operations for Desert Shield and Desert Storm. He coordinated the efforts of the allied forces from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, from August 1990 until his retirement in August 1991. Since retiring, he has published an autobiography, It Doesn’t Take a Hero, and participated in several television specials, including the award-winning D-Day. He is currently working as a consultant with NBC.

The luncheon will also feature comments by Ken Murphy (’60), founder of the Murphy Enterprise Center, and the announcement of the winners of the $50,000 Shirley Murphy Entrepreneur Contest and the Murphy Award, recognizing outstanding entrepreneurship.

Tickets are $175 each or $1,500 for a table of 10. Corporate sponsorships are also available. A portion of the cost of each ticket may be considered a charitable contribution. Proceeds will be used for student awards and programs offered through the center.

For more information or to make reservations, call (940) 565-2848 or e-mail

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Regents Professors named

Six faculty members were named Regents Professors at the August meeting of the UNT System Board of Regents. Receiving the honor were Jeffry Kelber, chemistry; Floyd McDaniel, physics; James Morrow, kinesiology, health promotion and recreation; James Riggs, music; William Scharnberg, music; and Marcia Staff, finance, insurance, real estate and law.

Regents Professors, recognized for outstanding research or teaching, devote at least half of their teaching load to introductory-level courses.

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picture of ScrappyNew bird on campus

UNT’s signature eagle, Scrappy, is sporting a new look this fall. The creative department of University Communications and Marketing began working with the athletics department in May to create a character that incorporates the “Mean Green” name with the university’s longstanding mascot, the eagle.

The new image depicts Scrappy in motion as a green eagle with a white head, green eyes and a snarling beak. Scrappy’s talons grasp the moniker “Mean Green.”

"We did a lot of research and spent a lot of time studying other major college spirit markers," says Todd Lancaster, university creative director. "There are exciting things happening in UNT athletics, and we want to reflect that in a new look. We wanted a character that was aggressive and had some human-like qualities and that also showed movement. We also needed a design that would distinguish UNT's eagle from all the other eagle mascots. The Mean Green name is unique, so we needed to tie the eagle to that concept — the new Scrappy is mean, and he is green."

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