Chicago Tribune, 3/31/94 Skull sheds new light on prehumans' evolution New York Times News

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Chicago Tribune, 3/31/94 Skull sheds new light on prehumans' evolution New York Times News Service The first reasonably complete skull of the earliest recognized human ancestors after the split-off from the great apes has been found near the bank of a dry riverbed in Ethiopia's arid badlands. The skull, with its apelike heavy brow, jutting jaw and small brain case, is apparently that of a large male who lived about 3 million years ago. The remarkable find, which fills a serious gap in understanding early human evolution, gives a face to the species first identified and made famous by the discovery in 1974 of the headless "Lucy'' skeleton. Lucy is perhaps the most famous representative of Australopithecus afarensis, the oldest known species in human evolution. Without a skull scientists were not sure what these creatures looked like or what Lucy's position was in the human lineage. The discovery could thus settle some of the hotly debated issues over whether the varied fossils from this time, between 3.9 million and 3 million years ago, actually belonged to a single species-- Australopithecus afarensis considered the common root of the human family tree--or represented two or more species of different sizes and behavior. In a report to be published Thursday in the journal Nature, the discoverers said the skull confirmed their original hypothesis that these creatures belonged to one species. The discoverers described the skull as not only the youngest and largest but also the only relatively intact one of the afarensis species, which lived for almost one million years in the region from Ethiopia in the north to Tanzania in the south. The longevity of the afarensis species was remarkable in itself the discovery team said, noting how few detectable evolutionary changes seemed to occur between the first known afarensis specimens from 3 million years ago and the skull and other recently discovered fossils that are about s million years old. The team was headed by William Kimbel and Donald C. Johanson of the Institute of Human Origins in Berkeley, Calif., and Yoel Rak of Tel Aviv University in Israel


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