Feeds

Ethiopian bone-anza buttresses human family tree

Awash with hominids

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

Paleontologists have unearthed an unprecedented cache of early human fossils in Ethiopia. The discoveries, reported in Nature, bone-up the story of our ancestors in the cradle of humanity.

The remains belong to hominids – the collective term for humans and human-like apes – of the genus Australopithecus, a forerunner to our own, Homo. The international team toiled for five years alongside local people in the Middle Awash Valley, which lies in the Afar region. The finds, from at least nine individuals, are mostly teeth but include jaw, hand and thighbones.

The hominid material had to be distinguished from monkeys and other mammals; our ancestors in the Middle Awash led a woodland lifestyle. Their brains were around the same size as modern chimps'.

The most famous fossil in the world, “Lucy”, is an Australopithecus that lived in Ethiopia over three million years ago. Modern humans by comparison are a newbie on the hominid scene, having first stepped out about 150,000 years ago.

At more than four million years old, the new fossils are even older than Lucy. They fill in a gap between Australopithecus and one of the candidates for their own even more ape-like ancestors, Ardipithecus.

The origin of Australopithecus is one of the key questions in the descent of man; it seems there was a profusion of ambitious apemen in East Africa at the time.

Research co-director Dr Berhane Asfaw said: “For the first time, we found fossils that allow us to connect the first phase of human evolution and the second phase”

The particular species of Australopithecus they found, anamensis is not new to science. It is new to the Middle Awash however, and so fills in another page in the story, throwing weight behind Ardipithecus' claim on human ancestry.

It either evolved from Ardipithecus on the spot, or evolved in one of the other areas where its bones have been found, and invaded the region. Either way, the region was the first skirmish of the evolutionary melee which Homo sapiens eventually emerged victorious from.

The scientists say the shift from Ardipithecus to Australopithecus seems relatively rapid in evolutionary terms. The key differences were the development of a robust jaw for crunching tough but nutritious roots, and possibly the first emergence of upright walking.

At a press conference in Ethiopia Asfaw took the opportunity to use the finds for a dig at creationists: “We have proved that one [species] is transforming into the other, so this evidence is important to show that there is human evolution. Human evolution is a fact and not a hypothesis.”

Work continues in the region.®

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

More from The Register

next story
Renewable energy 'simply WON'T WORK': Top Google engineers
Windmills, solar, tidal - all a 'false hope', say Stanford PhDs
SEX BEAST SEALS may be egging each other on to ATTACK PENGUINS
Boffin: 'I think the behaviour is increasing in frequency'
Post-pub nosh neckfiller: The MIGHTY Scotch egg
Off to the boozer? This delicacy might help mitigate the effects
I'M SO SORRY, sobs Rosetta Brit boffin in 'sexist' sexy shirt storm
'He is just being himself' says proud mum of larger-than-life physicist
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
Simon's says quantum computing will work
Boffins blast algorithm with half a dozen qubits
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Internet Security Threat Report 2014
An overview and analysis of the year in global threat activity: identify, analyze, and provide commentary on emerging trends in the dynamic threat landscape.
Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile
Data demand and the rise of virtualization is challenging IT teams to deliver storage performance, scalability and capacity that can keep up, while maximizing efficiency.