Four Species Of Human Ancestors Co-Existed On Earth 3 Million Years Ago

First Posted: Jun 10, 2016 06:40 AM EDT

For a long time, the Australopithecus afarensis was the best known early human species. However, research has reportedly brought to light the existence of at least three other different hominin species, which lived at the same time as the Australopithecus afarensis around 3.2 million years ago. The new discovery, made with an in depth analysis of fossil evidences, raises the count of known human ancestors to four.

Researchers from Germany's Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and The Cleveland Museum of Natural History (CMNH) came to the conclusion after carrying out an observation of hominin fossils, belonging to the middle Pliocene age between 3.3 and 3 million years ago, found in Chad, Kenya and Ethiopia. "It is now obvious that more than one early hominin species co-existed during Lucy's time," said lead author Dr Yohannes Haile-Selassie, from CMNH. "The question now is not whether Australopithecus afarensis, the species to which the famous Lucy belongs, was the only potential human ancestor species that roamed in what is now Ethiopia's Afar region during the middle Pliocene, but how these species are related to each other and exploited available resources". Incidentally, Lucy is the name given to the most famous Australopithecus afarensis fossil, discovered in Ethiopia.The idea of more than one separate human species simultaneously existing was not widely accepted until very recently. Furthermore, it was believed that each hominin species gave rise to the succeeding one in a linear manner over the gradual course of time. The discovery of the Australopithecus bahrelghazali in Chad during 1995 and the Kenyanthropus platyops in Kenya during 2001 challenged the idea of one chain of human ancestor. However, the two hitherto undiscovered species were not accepted by scientists to be different species at all, rather they were suggested as being geographic variants of the Australopithecus afarensis. It was only with the unearthing of a 3.4 million year old Burtele partial foot from Ethiopia in 2012 that the case for simultaneous existence of numerous human ancestors became stronger. Further research, gave conclusive evidence that multiple hominin species with different dietary and locomotor adaptations existed, throwing new light on our evolutionary past as well as raising more questions about the history of hominins.

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