Possible New Early Human Discovered
A team led by palaeoanthropologist Yohannes Haille-Selassie reported recently in Nature the discovery of a possible new early human, Australopithecus deyiremeda.
The report is based on an upper and lower jaw with teeth dating from 3.5-3.3 million years ago in northern Ethiopia. The fossils were found just 35 km from the location where the famous Lucy fossils were found, the most complete example of Australopithecus afarensis which lived from 3.7 to 3 million years ago.
Finding a new early human is always interesting. Over the last few decades scientists have found increasing numbers of hominin species, who exist evolutionarily somewhere between our split with chimpanzees roughly 8 million years ago and modern humans.
One question scientists have been trying to answer is whether or not different hominin species existed together in the same place and time. The new discovery adds to the growing evidence that this was common. A. deyiremeda existed at the same time and location with A. afarensis and Kenyanthropus platyops. They likely had different food sources and lifestyles, however.
At present A. deyiremeda is based entirely on jaw and tooth fossils, a partial upper and two lower jaws from three different individuals. They are clearly different from A. afarensis and K. platyops, however, and so are probably a new species. The teeth are smaller than A. afarensis.
Some researchers, however, are not convinced that the amount of difference warrants a new species designation, rather than just a variation within A. afarensis. The researchers hope to find more specimens linked to A. deyiremeda to flesh our the anatomy and confirm that this is indeed a unique species.