A new species of human ancestor lived 3.3 million years ago. The jaw bones and teeth were discovered by an international team of scientists, and were unearthed in the Afar region of Ethiopia. It’s believed that the ancient fossils belonged to four individuals, and it’s thought they would have had both ape and human-like features.
Dr. Yohannes Haile Selassie, who led the team, discovered the 3.3 to 3.5 million-year-old new human ancestor species. The upper and lower jaw fossils that were found in the Woranso-Mille area of the Afar have been assigned to a new species, Australopithecus deyiremeda. It is believed that this hominin lived alongside the famous “Lucy” species, Australopithecus afarensis. The study was published in the journal Nature.
New human ancestor species from Ethiopia:
“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 and Woranso-Mille project team leader Dr. Yohannes Haile-Selassie, curator of physical anthropology at The Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
“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,” wrote The Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
“This new species from Ethiopia takes the ongoing debate on early hominin diversity to another level,” said Haile-Selassie.” 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.”
Scientists have long argued that there was only one pre-human species at any given time between 3 and 4 million years ago, subsequently giving rise to another new species through time.
This was what the fossil record appeared to indicate until the end of the 20th century.
However, the naming of Australopithecus bahrelghazali from Chad and Kenyanthropus platyops from Kenya, both from the same time period as Lucy’s species, challenged this long-held idea, said the museum.
Although a number of researchers were skeptical about the validity of these species, the announcement by Haile-Selassie of the 3.4 million-year-old Burtele partial foot in 2012 cleared some of the skepticism about the likelihood of multiple early hominin species in the 3 to 4 million-year range.
“Finding such taxonomic diversity raises the question of how multiple species could have coexisted over a long period in a stable ecosystem, particularly when they live in close geographic proximity,” Fred Spoor, who is an evolutionary biologist and was not involved in the find, wrote in a commentary published in Nature.
The Burtele partial fossil foot did not belong to a member of Lucy’s species. However, despite the similarity in geological age and close geographic proximity, the researchers have not assigned the partial foot to the new species due to lack of clear association. Regardless, the new species Australopithecus deyiremeda incontrovertibly confirms that multiple species did indeed co-exist during this time period.
Haile-Selassie told BBC News: “We had to look at the detailed anatomy and morphology of the teeth and the upper and lower jaws, and we found major differences. 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.”
“This discovery has important implications for our understanding of early hominin ecology. It also raises significant questions, such as how multiple early hominins living at the same time and geographic area might have used the shared landscape and available resources,” the Museum wrote.