Late Pliocene fossiliferous sedimentary record and the environmental context of early Homo from Afar, Ethiopia

Science  20 Mar 2015:
Vol. 347, Issue 6228, pp. 1355-1359
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa1415

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Finding Homo nearly 3 million years ago

The fossil record of humans is notoriously patchy and incomplete. Even so, skeletal remains and artifacts unearthed in Africa in recent decades have done much to illuminate human evolution. But what is the origin of the genus Homo? Villmoare et al. found a fossil mandible and teeth from the Afar region in Ethiopia. The find extends the record of recognizable Homo by at least half a million years, to almost 2.8 million years ago. The morphological traits of the fossil align more closely with Homo than with any other hominid genus. DiMaggio et al. confirm the ancient date of the site and suggest that these early humans lived in a setting that was more open and arid than previously thought.

Science, this issue p. 1352, p. 1355


Sedimentary basins in eastern Africa preserve a record of continental rifting and contain important fossil assemblages for interpreting hominin evolution. However, the record of hominin evolution between 3 and 2.5 million years ago (Ma) is poorly documented in surface outcrops, particularly in Afar, Ethiopia. Here we present the discovery of a 2.84– to 2.58–million-year-old fossil and hominin-bearing sediments in the Ledi-Geraru research area of Afar, Ethiopia, that have produced the earliest record of the genus Homo. Vertebrate fossils record a faunal turnover indicative of more open and probably arid habitats than those reconstructed earlier in this region, which is in broad agreement with hypotheses addressing the role of environmental forcing in hominin evolution at this time. Geological analyses constrain depositional and structural models of Afar and date the LD 350-1 Homo mandible to 2.80 to 2.75 Ma.

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