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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