Awash Valley, Afar region Fossil remains belonging to a new species of ancient human have been discovered in the Afar region of Ethiopia. Researchers unearthed jaw bones and teeth from four individuals dated to between 3.3 and 3.5 million years old. They had both ape and human-like features. The finds tell scientists that a new species of human was alive at the same time as several other early human species, including "Lucy", the popular name for Australopithecus afarensis, long thought to be the direct ancestor of modern humans. [29th May 2015]
A group of Australopithecus afarensis collecting fruit
The new species has been named Australopithecus deyiremeda, which means "close relative" in the language spoken by the local Afar people of Ethiopia. It differs from Australopithecus afarensis by the shape and size of its thick-enamelled teeth and by its more powerful lower jaws. The canine teeth are also much smaller, which indicates that it probably had a different diet to Australopithecus afarensis.
The age of Australopithecus deyiremeda's remains means that it could have been one of four different species of early humans that are now thought to have existed at the same time in northeastern Africa. Besides Australopithecus afarensis, which lived between 2.9 and 3.8 million years ago, they are Kenyanthropus platyops, discovered in Kenya, and Australopithecus bahrelghazali, discovered in Chad. (Some researchers disagree as to whether the various discoveries are really different species, but all variations of the same creature.)
Scientists have long thought that only one hominin (a human ancestor), Australopithecus afarensis, was around at this time. But, as Dr Yohannes Haile-Selassie, curator of physical anthropology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in the US, who is leading the research, said: "With the discovery of more species like this new one... you have another species roaming around. What this means is we have many species that could give rise to our own genus Homo."
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