Anthropologists have found very few fossils of the Australopithecus species — a hominin ancestor that lived in Africa between roughly 4 and 2 million years ago.
Now, researchers have discovered that an Australopithecus anamensis skull found in 2016 is 3.8 million years old, making it the oldest Australopithecus skull ever found.
The skull, named “MRD,” was discovered in the Afar region of Ethiopia.
Its age indicates that Australopithecus anamensis co-existed with Australopithecus afararensis, a species that anthropologists thought lived later on.
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Everything we know about the group of human ancestors called Australopiths comes from just a few dozen fossils.
But a skull discovered in Ethiopia is now changing anthropologists’ understanding of the group.
The skull, nicknamed “MRD,” was originally unearthed in 2016 in the Afar region in Ethiopia. By carbon-dating minerals in the rocks near where MRD was found, scientists determined the fossil to be roughly 3.8 million years old. That makes it the oldest Australopithecus skull ever found, edging out the previous record-holder by about 200,000 years.
The scientists’ findings about the MRD, published today in the journal Nature, also show that it belonged to a member of the oldest species of Australopith, called Australopithecus anamensis.
That means MRD (the nickname comes from its collection number, MRD-VP-1/1) co-existed with another species of human ancestor, Australopithecus afarensis, for at least 100,000 years. The nearly complete skeleton “Lucy,” was a member of that latter group, which roamed Africa between 3.9 and 3.0 million years ago.
The overlapping timelines of these two species alters scientists’ timeline of human evolution, since they previously thought the species burst onto the evolutionary scene one after the other.
A face for Australopithecus anamensis
The term hominins refers to any ancestor in the human lineage (including modern-day Homo sapiens) who are more closely related to each other …read more
Source:: Business Insider