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Newest “Human Ancestor” Apparently Composed Entirely of Teeth
by Casey Luskin
Both Nature and Science Daily are touting a “new human ancestor” that was discovered in Ethiopia. As always, the dutiful science news media repeat the claim, with near-identical headlines at CBS News (“Newfound human ancestor may have lived alongside Lucy”), Washington Post (“Scientists discover a new human ancestor that roamed with ‘Lucy'”), Boston Herald (“Study: Ethiopian fossils indicate new forerunner of humans”), The Verge (“New human ancestor shared its turf with ‘Lucy'”), and elsewhere.
What, exactly, was found? Nothing more than teeth and jaw fragments. (Lest anyone misunderstand, the title of this post is facetious. While that should be obvious, I find that many things that should be obvious in the evolution debate turn out not to be so.) In all seriousness, here is the totality of all we know about this purported new species, Australopithecus deyiremeda:
Reprinted by permission from Macmillan Publishers Ltd: Nature, Yohannes Haile-Selassie, Luis Gibert, Stephanie M. Melillo, Timothy M. Ryan, Mulugeta Alene, Alan Deino, Naomi E. Levin, Gary Scott & Beverly Z. Saylor, “New species from Ethiopia further expands Middle Pliocene hominin diversity,” 521:483-488 (May 28, 2015).
It’s on the basis of this sparse evidence that we are presented with a “new human ancestor.” Here is Science Daily‘s evolutionary interpretation:
“The new species is yet another confirmation that Lucy’s species, Australopithecus afarensis, was not the only potential human ancestor species that roamed in what is now the Afar region of Ethiopia during the middle Pliocene,” said lead author and Woranso-Mille project team leader Dr. Yohannes Haile-Selassie, curator of physical anthropology at The Cleveland Museum of Natural History. “Current fossil evidence from the Woranso-Mille study area clearly shows that there were at least two, if not three, early human species living at the same time and in close geographic proximity.”
Some scientists aren’t so sure that we have enough evidence to understand this species’ relationship to other hominins…
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