New Human Species Discovered

Fossils from northern Kenya point to a new human species that lived in Africa nearly 2 million years ago.

By | August 9, 2012

New fossils from Koobi Fora, northern Kenya, confirm taxonomic diversity in early Homo. Leakey et al. Nature Embargoed for any media release until 17:00 GMT / 18:00 London time / 13:00 US Eastern Time /20:00 Kenya time, on 8 August 2012PERMITTED USE: This image may be downloaded or is otherwise provided at no charge for one-time use for coverage or promotion of the Kenyan fossil find and exclusively in conjunction thereof. Copying, distribution, archiving, sublicensing, sale, or resale of the image is prohibited. REQUIRED CREDIT AND CAPTION: Any and all image uses must (1) bear the copyright notice, (2) be properly credited to the relevant photographer, as shown in this metadata, and (3) be accompanied by a caption which makes reference to the Kenyan fossil find. DEFAULT: Failure to comply with the prohibitions and requirements set forth above will obligate the individual or entity receiving this image to pay a fee determined by National Geographic.IMAGE 2. The KNM-ER 1470 cranium, discovered in 1972, combined with the new lower jaw KNM-ER 60000; both are thought to belong to the same species. The lower jaw is shown as a photographic reconstruction, and the cranium is based on a computed tomography scan. © Photo by Fred Spoor A cranium, discovered in 1972, combined with the new lower jaw; both are thought to belong to the same species.© Photo by Fred Spoor

At least three different human species co-existed in Africa between 1.78 and 1.95 million years old, according to an analysis of fossils uncovered in northern Kenya. The finding, published this week (August 8) in Nature, supports suspicions that a human skull found in 1972 was in fact a distinct species from Homo habilis and Homo erectus. The skull had a large brain and flat face compared to other known human fossils of the time, and was given the name Homo rudolfensis, but with no other fossils to support its classification as a new species, the field remained divided.

But the new fossils—a face and two jawbones with teeth—suggest that H. rudolfensis was indeed a distinct human species, which lived alongside other ancient human species some 2 million years ago.

"Our past was a diverse past," Meave Leakey of the Turkana Basin Institute in Nairobi, who led the study, told BBC News. "Our species was evolving in the same way that other species of animals evolved. There was nothing unique about us until we began to make sophisticated stone tools."

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