More than 3 million years ago, when “Lucy” was roaming the savannah of present-day Ethiopia, she may have encountered other two-legged apes not unlike her own species, Australopithecus afarensis—yet still just a wee bit strange.
Reported Wednesday in Nature, the new specimens—a partial upper jaw, two lower jaws, and some other fragments—were found at Burtele, in the Afar Triangle of Ethiopia, just a day’s walk from Hadar, where Lucy was found in 1974. Sediments surrounding the bones were dated to 3.3 and 3.5 million years ago, a time when A afarensis is well known to have inhabited the region. While the new jaws share some characteristics with Lucy’s species, they differ in other respects. Some of the teeth have different root structures, and in general are smaller than A. afarensis teeth, a trait that could indicate a shift in diet.