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New Human Species Discovered

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

Jef Akst
Jef Akst

Jef Akst is managing editor of The Scientist, where she started as an intern in 2009 after receiving a master’s degree from Indiana University in April 2009 studying the mating behavior of seahorses.

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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...

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