The cranium of a 3.8-million-year-old early human ancestor has been found by a team of researchers in Ethiopia. It comes from a time when early human ancestor fossils are considered “extremely rare.” Professor Yohannes Haile-Selassie, Ethiopian paleoanthropologist of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and co-author of two studies published on the findings in the journal Nature, said, “This skull is one of the most complete fossils of hominids more than three million years old.”
The fossil scientifically belongs to Australopithecus anamensis, considered an ancestor of the world’s most famous human ancestor, the 3.2-million-year-old ape Lucy, who is an Australopithecus afarensis. The new fossil, known as “MRD,” was found approximately 34 miles north of where Lucy was discovered in 1974. The discovery has the potential to change the understanding of human evolution. MRD reveals the two species co-existed for about 100,000 years.
The skull was found in 2016 at the Woranso-Mille paleontological site at a place called Miro Dora, which is in the Mille District of Ethiopia’s Afar Regional State. It was discovered in what was once sand deposited in a river delta on the shore of a lake. Naomi Levin, a co-author on the study, said in a statement, “We’re eager to conduct more work in these deposits to understand the environment of the MRD specimen, the relationship to climate change and how it affected human evolution, if at all.”
It took researchers three and a half years to determine that the skull indeed belonged to A. anamensis. Previously discovered facial remains of the species were limited to jaws and teeth. The fossil shows the beginning of the massive and robust faces found in Australopithecus, with its middle and lower parts jutting forward. In contrast, Lucy’s species had a flatter mid-face, closer to a human’s flat face.