New species of early human discovered near fossil of ‘Lucy’

Australopithecus deyiremeda lived about 3.4 million years ago in northern Ethiopia, around the same time and place as Australopithecus afarensis.

By Ewen Callaway

Welcome, Lucy’s neighbour. Fossilized jaws and teeth found1 in northern Ethiopia belong to an ancient human relative that researchers say lived around the same time as Lucy’s kind, Australopithecus afarensis, but is a distinct species. The remains of the new species, which has been dubbed Australopithecus deyiremeda and lived between 3.5 million and 3.3 million years ago, were uncovered just 35 kilometres from the Hadar site at which Lucy and other A. afarensis individuals were found. Fossils from A. afarensis date to between 3.7 million and 3 million years ago, so the two species would have overlapped (although Lucy herself may have lived too recently to see one).

The find suggests that several distinct hominins — species more closely related to humans than to chimps — roamed eastern Africa more than 3 million years ago. A third species, Kenyanthropus platyops, lived in what is now Kenya around the same time2. “The question that is going to come up is which taxa gave rise to our genus, Homo,” says Yohannes Haille-Selassie, a palaeoanthropologist at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in Ohio, whose team reports its discovery in Nature1. “That’s going to be the 64-million-dollar question.”

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Oldest Stone Tools Unearthed in Kenya


“SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA—At the annual meeting of the Paleoanthropology Society, Sonia Harmand of Stony Brook University announced the discovery of 3.3 million-year-old tools at the site of Lomekwi 3. In 2011, her team was traveling west of Kenya’s Lake Turkana, near the area where a controversial human relative called Kenyanthropus platyops had been discovered, when they saw stone tools on the surface of the ground. Excavation uncovered nearly 20 anvils, cores, and flakes, including a flake that fits into its original core.

“The artifacts were clearly knapped and not the result of accidental fracture of rocks,” Harmand said at the meeting, reported in Science. All of the artifacts, which have their own distinct style, were sealed in sediments that were dated using paleomagnetic techniques. Until now, 2.6-million-year-old Oldowan tools from the site of Gona in Ethiopia were the oldest tools on record. The tools from Lomekwi 3 are too old to have been made by modern humans, and may have been created by australopithecines or byKenyanthropus.“

To read about stone-tools used by our extinct cousins, see “Neanderthal Tool Time.”