A new species of ancient human has been unearthed in the Afar region of Ethiopia, scientists report. Researchers discovered jaw bones and teeth, which date to between 3.3m and 3.5m years old. It means this new hominin was alive at the same time as several other early human species, suggesting our family tree is more complicated than was thought. The study is published in the journal Nature.
The new species has been called Australopithecus deyiremeda, which means “close relative” in the language spoken by the Afar people. The ancient remains are thought to belong to four individuals, who would have had both ape and human-like features.. Lead researcher Dr Yohannes Haile-Selassie, curator of physical anthropology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in the US, told BBC News: “We had to look at the detailed anatomy and morphology of the teeth and the upper and lower jaws, and we found major differences.
“This new species has very robust jaws. In addition, we see this new species had smaller teeth. The canine is really small – smaller than all known hominins we have documented in the past.” The age of the remains means that this was potentially one of four different species of early humans that were all alive at the same time.
The most famous of these is Australopithecus afarensis – known as Lucy – who lived between 2.9-3.8m years ago, and was initially thought to be our direct ancestor. However the discovery of another species called Kenyanthropus platyops in Kenya in 2001, and of Australopithecus bahrelghazali in Chad, and now Australopithecus deyiremedaI, suggests that there were several species co-existing.