3.8-Million-Year-Old Face Fills in Gaps in Human Evolution

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The remarkably complete skull of a human ancestor of the genus Australopithecus fills in some of the gaps in the human evolutionary tree. (Dale Omori / Cleveland Museum of Natural History)

A 3.8-Million-Year-Old Skull Puts a New Face on a Little-Known Human Ancestor

by  Brian Handwerk Smithsonian.com

Spotting the intact Australopithecus skull in the Ethiopian dirt caused paleoanthropologist Yohannes Haile-Selassie to literally jump for joy. “It was something that I’ve never seen before, and I’ve seen a lot of cranial fossils,” he says.

The chance discovery by Haile-Selassie and an Ethiopian shepherd has created a captivating portrait of 3.8-million-year-old face, providing an unprecedented look at a hominin species from a key stage of human evolution. Experts say the extraordinary fossil can help redefine the branches of humans’ evolutionary tree during a time when our ancestors had just evolved efficient ways to walk upright.

“This cranium looks set to become another celebrated icon of human evolution,” Fred Spoor, a human evolution researcher at the Natural History Museum in London, writes in a News & Views article that accompanied Haile-Selassie and colleagues’ new study in the journal Nature.

The amazingly complete skull surfaced at Woranso-Mille, in Ethiopia’s Afar region, back in 2016. But it has taken 3 and a half years of hard work to answer the first question that arose—just what kind of skull is it?

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