Scientists unearth new species of human ancestor in Ethiopia

The bones and teeth of Australopithecus deyiremeda are more than 3 million years old

Serina Sandhu
Thursday 28 May 2015 12:26
Comments
The upper jaw of Australopithecus deyiremeda
The upper jaw of Australopithecus deyiremeda

A new hominin that existed around three million years ago and was related to the famous "Lucy" species has been discovered.

Researchers claim that they have unearthed the new species, called Australopithecus deyiremedal, in Ethiopia's Woranso-Mille area of the Afar region.

According to a study published in the journal Nature today, jaw bones and teeth which are thought to have belonged to four individuals with both ape and human-like features have been found, dating to between 3.3 million and 3.5 million years old.

“This new species has very robust jaws. In addition, we see this new species had smaller teeth. The canine is really small – smaller than all known hominins we have documented in the past,” Dr Yohannes Haile-Selassie, lead researcher of the study, told the BBC.

Some scientists have argued that only one human ancestor species existed between three and four million years ago. But the unearthing of Kenyanthropus platyops in Kenya and Australopithecus bahrelghazali in Chad, and now Ethiopia’s Australopithecus deyiremedal, mean that several early human species could have been alive at the same time as Lucy.

The paper said: “There is now incontrovertible evidence to show that multiple hominins existed contemporaneously in eastern Africa during the Middle Pliocene… What remains intriguing, and requires further investigation, is how these taxa are related to each other and to later hominins, and what environmental and ecological factors triggered such diversity.”

Dr Haile-Selassie said: “Historically, because we didn’t have the fossil evidence to show there was hominin diversity during the middle Pliocene, we thought there was only one lineage, one primitive ancestor – in this case Australopithecus afarensis, Lucy – giving rise to the next.”

He said that the hypothesis of linear evolution had to be revisited.

“What this means is we have many species that could give rise to later hominins, including our own genus homo,” he said.

However, paleoanthropologist Bill Kimbel, from the Institute of Human Origins, told the National Geographic that the distinctions between Australopithecus deyiremedal and Australopithecus afarensis are “very subtle”.

“I think the authors have done a very nice job in [analysing] the material, but I think it’s a judgment call as to whether you think the differences amount to a species-level difference,” said Kimbel.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in