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