New Human Ancestor from 3.5 Million Years Ago is Discovered in Ethiopia

By Staff Reporter - 28 May '15 02:39AM

A new human ancestor species has been discovered by an international team of scientists in  the Afar region of Ethiopia some 3.3 to 3.5 million years ago.

A lower jaw, along with jaw fragments and teeth, dated at 3.3 million to 3.5 million years old, were found in the Afar region of northern Ethiopia four years ago.

The journal Nature released a paper Wednesday announcing the new find and assigned it to a species they dubbed Australopithecus deyiremeda. In the Afar language the second name means "close relative," referring to its apparent relationship to later members of the evolutionary tree.

The new species combined ape-like and human-like traits as did Lucy's species, Australopithecus afarensis, but was sufficiently different to warrant recognition as a separate species, they said.

Lucy's skeleton was unearthed in 1974 about 50km from the new fossils' location.

"The new species is yet another confirmation that Lucy's species, Australopithecus afarensis, was not the only potential human ancestor species that roamed in what is now the Afar region of Ethiopia during the middle Pliocene," said lead author Dr Yohannes Haile-Selassie of the Cleveland Museum. "Current fossil evidence from the Woranso-Mille study area clearly shows that there were at least two, if not three, early human species living at the same time and in close geographic proximity."

"This new species from Ethiopia takes the ongoing debate on early hominin diversity to another level," said Haile-Selassie. "Some of our colleagues are going to be skeptical about this new species, which is not unusual. However, I think it is time that we look into the earlier phases of our evolution with an open mind and carefully examine the currently available fossil evidence rather than immediately dismissing the fossils that do not fit our long-held hypotheses," said Haile-Selassie.

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