Ancient Fossil Remains Reveal Our Human Ancestors were More Diverse Than Expected

First Posted: Mar 10, 2015 07:15 AM EDT

It turns out that our ancient ancestors may have looked quite a bit differently than we do today. Researchers have taken a closer look at bones from early human species and have found that they had distinct body forms that were different than those of today.

In this case, the researchers examined 1.9 million-year old pelvis and femur bones from an early human ancestor in Kenya. These fossils, in particular, showed a greater body diversity than scientists first expected.

"What these new fossils are telling us is that the early species of our genus, Homo, were more distinctive than we thought," said Carol Ward, one of the researchers, in a news release. "They differed not only in their faces and jaws, but in the rest of their bodies too. The old depiction of linear evolution from ape to human with single steps in between is proving to be inaccurate. We are findings that evolution seemed to be experimenting with different human physical traits in different species before ending up with Homo sapiens."

Three species of Homo existed prior to modern humans. Homo rudolfensis and Homo habilis were the earliest versions and were followed by Homo erectus. Because the oldest eructus fossils that have been found are only about 1.8 million years old, though, the researchers believe the new fossils that have been found either belong to rodolfensis or habilis. What's interesting, though, is that the fossils represent a diversity in the physical structures of human ancestors.

"The new specimen has a hip joint like all other Homo species, but it also has a thinner pelvis and thighbone compared to Homo eructus," said Ward. "This doesn't necessarily mean that these early human ancestors moved or lived differently, but it does suggest that they were a distinct species that could have been identified not just from looking at their faces and jaws, but by seeing their body shapes as well. Our new fossils, along with the other new specimens reported over the past few weeks, tell us that the evolution of our genus goes back much earlier than we thought, and that many species and types of early humans coexisted for about a million years before our ancestors became the only Homo species left."

The findings reveal a bit more about our ancient ancestors. Not only that, but it shows that they were far more diverse than scientists first expected.

The findings are published in the Journal of Human Evolution.

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