?What We Found Fills the Fossil Record Gap between 3.6 and 3.9 Million Years Ago?
18 Jul, 2007 02:51 pm
Scientists have discovered new early hominid fossils that may fill the gap between two early human species. Interview with Dr Yohannes Haile-Selassie who led the excavations in the Woranso-Mille area of the Afar Region in Ethiopia.
We found specimens of early hominid remains from about 3.5 to 3.8 million years ago. We have been working in this study area for the last four years and we have been finding different species since 2004. In 2005 we found a partial skeleton. This time we have been finding additional specimens including more complete jaws with teeth. This time we announced it because we know of what significance it is. In the fossil hominid record we do not have evidence of early humans from 3.6 to 3.9 million years ago so far: what we found fills the fossil record gap between 3.6 and 3.9 million years ago. It links a species known as Australopithecus anamensis from about 4.2 million years ago to the younger species known as Australopithecus afarensis which existed from about 3.6 to about 2 million years ago. It closes the bridge between these two species.
What is the place of Ethiopia in the studies of human origins?
Ethiopia is usually known as the cradle of humankind which means that it is the center of human origins. We have good reasons to say that, because Ethiopia has a continuous record of 6 million years of early hominid fossil remains. If you start with the earliest, we have hominid Ardipithecus kadabba from 5.8 to 5.2 million years ago. I was the one who named that species. After that, we have Ardipithecus ramidus at 4.4 million years ago. Then, as we recently announced, we have Australopithecus anamensis from about 4 million years ago. And then of course hundreds of afarensis remains from also the Middle Awash area. We also have species that link to 2.5, 2, 1.5 and 1 million years ago. We have the record of anatomically earliest modern humans, Homo sapiens idaltu, from about 160.000 years ago. We have about twelve early hominid species known from Ethiopia. Because of that, Ethiopia is one of the countries which is at the forefront in the studies of paleoanthropology, of human origins.
What will you be looking for now?
The next mission is to go back to the field and to find more fossil hominids, but also fossils of early animals. We need these fossils of early animals to reconstruct the environment of our early ancestors. We have a yearly program where we go back to the site and also look for new areas where there will be early hominid fossils and early animal fossils, so that we can have a global picture of early evolution.
Yohannes Haile-Selassie is curator and head of physical anthropology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History
Interview by: Clementine Fullias