New Species of Human Ancestor Found in Ethiopia

01newhominin.adapt.676.1More 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.

 Represented by jawbones from three individuals, a newly described species named Australopithecus deyrimeda adds to the scatter of evidence that not one, but a range of hominin species populated the East African landscape before 3 million years ago. This could imply they were able to carve out separate niches in a stable environment based on differences in diet, foraging strategies and other behaviors.”We don’t know enough yet to say anything about the nature of interaction or ecological differences between A. afarensis and A. deyiremeda,” says Stephanie Melillo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. “We have to first know how to tell the two species apart from their fossil remains, and that is what this paper was all about.”

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.

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