Scientists Discover New Human Species

By Amir Khan on August 9, 2012 8:53 AM EDT

Skull
Researchers studying fossils in Kenya have discovered a new species of humans that lived 2 million years ago. The findings suggest that three different species of humans co-existed in Africa back then, and adds to mounting evidence that evolution was not a linear progression from primates to humans. (Photo: Fred Spoor)

Researchers studying fossils in Kenya have discovered a new species of humans that lived 2 million years ago. The findings suggest that three different species of humans co-existed in Africa back then, and adds to mounting evidence that evolution was not a linear progression from primates to humans.

Anthropologists discovered two fossils that date back to 1.95 million years ago. One fossil is of a face, and the other of a jawbone with teeth. The results were published in the journal Nature.

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The new specimens confirm a 1972 discovery of a skull that was completely different than any other of the time. Named Homo rudolfensis, the species had a large brain and a long flat face. However, until now, that one specimen was the only example of such a species.

"We've never known exactly what it was and how it fitted in with anything else," Meave Leakey, coauthor of the study and renown anthropologist, told National Geographic. "We know that flat face is real-it isn't just an aberrant specimen."

Up until 50 years ago, the oldest human species was thought to be Homo erectus, dating back 1.8 million years ago. However, researchers then discovered a new species, Homo habilis, which coexisted with H. erectus. Now, researchers say, H. rudolfensis existed around that time, bringing the total up to three.

"Our past was a diverse past," Meave told BBC News. "Our species was evolving in the same way that other species of animals evolved. There was nothing unique about us until we began to make sophisticated stone tools."

Professor Chris Stringer, a researcher with the Natural History Museum in London, told BBC News that the findings show humans followed the same evolutionary path as other animals.

"Humans seem to have been evolving in different ways in different regions. It was almost as if nature was developing different human prototypes with different attributes, only one of which, an ancestor of our species, was ultimately successful in evolutionary terms," he said.

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