New Study Suggests Lots of Early Hominins

A new study published this week in the academic journal “The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (United States)”, concludes that the early hominins of Africa were much more speciose than previously thought.  The most famous early human fossil, “Lucy” so named as the field team were listening to “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by the Beatles when her fragmentary fossils first came to light, a member of the species Australopithecus afarensis, had plenty of other types of early hominin for company.

A Reconstruction of the Facial Features of an Australopithecus afarensis

The A. afarensis called "Lucy"

“Lucy” a reconstruction of the face of A. afarensis.

Picture Credit: The Cleveland Museum of Natural History/John Gurche

A Complicated Family Tree

The analysis of the current known early hominin fossil material was conducted by Dr. Yohannes Haile-Selassie and Dr. Denise Su (The Cleveland Museum of Natural History), in conjunction with their colleague from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Dr. Stephanie Melillo.  In a review of the fossil evidence from Chad, Ethiopia and Kenya, the scientists suggest that around 3.6 million years ago, a number of ancient hominin species co-existed. It seems that “Lucy” and her kind had plenty of company.

Hominin Diversity in the Late Miocene and Pliocene Epochs

Pliocene Epoch hominin diversity.

A number of hominin species may have co-existed in the Pliocene Epoch.

Picture Credit: PNAS with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

The scientists conclude that more fossil material needs to be found to help establish the evolutionary relationships of these species and to determine how these early hominins competed for resources.

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