New hominid discovery older than Lucy raises more questions on human ancestry

This newly-discovered species, which may have lived 3.3 to 3.5 million years ago, has been named Australopithecus deyiremeda

Nikita Mehta
First Published28 May 2015
Paleoanthropologist Yohannes Haile-Selassie conducts comparative analysis of Australopithecus deyiremeda in his laboratory at Cleveland Museum of Natural History on 29 April 2015. Photo: Reuters<br />
Paleoanthropologist Yohannes Haile-Selassie conducts comparative analysis of Australopithecus deyiremeda in his laboratory at Cleveland Museum of Natural History on 29 April 2015. Photo: Reuters

New Delhi: Lucy, popularly known as the mother of humanity, may not have been the only species that preceded modern humans after a new hominid species was unearthed by anthropologists in the same region of Africa.

This newly-discovered species, which may have lived 3.3 to 3.5 million years ago, has been named Australopithecus deyiremeda, the Nature journal reported on Thursday.

This finding will add to a string of recent discoveries of ancient fossils and stone tools that are forcing scientists to question existing hypotheses of human ancestry and its diversity.

The upper and lower jaws of the new species were recovered from the Woranso-Mille area of the Afar region of Ethiopia. It differs from Lucy’s species, Australopithecus afarensis, in terms of the shape and size of its thick-enamelled teeth and the robust architecture of its lower jaws.

Lucy is an intact specimen of the oldest human ancestor dating back to 3.2 million years ago. The new hominid lived alongside Lucy people, scientists surmise.

Hominids are a group of species that includes modern humans, homo sapiens, and its closest evolutionary ancestors.

On 24 November 1974, while staying at a remote camp in northern Ethiopia’s Afar region, American anthropologist Donald Johanson discovered the remains of a small-bodied early human who became known to the world as Lucy.

The new species is evidence that there was more than one closely related early human ancestor species before 3 million years ago in close proximity.

“The question that is going to come up is which taxa gave rise to our genus, Homo,” Yohannes Haille-Selassie, a palaeoanthropologist at Cleveland Museum of Natural History in Ohio, said in Nature.

Last week, scientists had found the oldest stone tools yet dating back 3.3 million years, which is long before the advent of modern humans. This pushed back the known date of first tools and challenged the theory that human ancestors were the first to use stone tools.

“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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