The 2.8 million-year-old fossilized jawbone with small teeth which may be a transitional fossil between primitive and modern man

Jawbone found in Ethiopia set to rewrite history, push back origins of humans

(Read the article on one page)

An extraordinary fossil find in the desert of Ethiopia is pushing back the dawn of humankind by approximately half a million years, and rewriting what we know about the evolutionary branching that eventually led to modern humans.

A fossilized lower jaw, with five small teeth, is reportedly connecting the dots between primitive ancestors and modern humans. The specimen is the bone of one of the very first humans – it represents the oldest known human genus Homo - and comes from a time when humans split from the more ape-like ancestors, Australopithecus, identified by the best known fossil skeleton “Lucy”, according to CBC News .

‘The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopa’ exhibit at Houston Museum of Natural Science featuring a model of “Lucy”, Australopithecus Afarensis.

‘The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopa’ exhibit at Houston Museum of Natural Science featuring a model of “Lucy”, Australopithecus Afarensis. Jason Kuffer/ Flickr

The find is more than 400,000 years older than the oldest fossils belonging to the early humans who eventually gave rise to Homo sapiens, our modern species.

The jawbone was found close to where Lucy was discovered in 1974. The specimen of Australopithecus afarensis, dubbed Lucy, is from 3.2 million years ago. The species walked upright, but only stood a meter tall and had a small brain. This contrasts with the species Homo, characterized by an upright, bipedal posture, sophisticated tool-making abilities and a relatively large braincase”, reports BBC News . The Ethiopian jawbone seems to share traits similar to both species, and may be a transitional fossil, filling in an evolutionary gap.

The Ledi-Geraru jawbone.

The Ledi-Geraru jawbone. Credit: William Kimbel/Arizona State University

Graduate student of Arizona State University in the U.S., Chalachew Seyoum pulled the 2.8 million-year-old jawbone from the earth at the Ledi-Geraru research area in Ethiopia in 2013. “The moment I found it, I realized that it was important, as this is the time period represented by few (human) fossils in Eastern Africa,” he tells BBC News.

Researchers examine soil at the Ledi-Geraru site in Ethiopia, where Homo jawbone, known as LD 350-1, was discovered.

Researchers examine soil at the Ledi-Geraru site in Ethiopia, where Homo jawbone, known as LD 350-1, was discovered. Credit: Brian Villmoare

Side view of Australopithecus afarensis (Lucy), replica.

Side view of Australopithecus afarensis (“Lucy”), replica. Wikimedia Commons

Paleoanthropologist Brian Villmoare of University of Nevada, and colleagues published a study in the journal Science on the research into the jawbone. Villmoare says, “In spite of a lot of searching, fossils on the Homo lineage older than two million years ago are very rare. To have a glimpse of the very earliest phase of our lineage’s evolution is particularly exciting.”

MORE

Field work is being done in the Ledi-Geraru site to see if more fossils can be recovered. More information could help determine if the jaw belongs to a known early species of Homo, or an entirely new species, and researchers are putting off definitively naming it for the time being.

Recent examinations of fossilized human teeth in China and a prehistoric jawbone from Taiwan have been raising questions about the established theories on the history of modern humans, suggesting there may be many species yet uncategorized.

The rare Ethiopian find may help scientists answer vital questions about what prompted the transition from primitive to modern humans. The Science study suggests that environmental changes may have caused a shift in the lives and diet of ancient ancestors. Fossilized plant and animal analysis indicates that lush forest transitioned to dry grassland, and early humans may have adapted according to the new survival needs. However, scientists wait on a larger sample of hominid fossils in order to prove this conclusively.

A mix of hominid (genus Homo) depictions; (from right to left) H. habilis, H. ergaster, H. erectus; H. antecessor - male, female, H. heidelbergensis; H. neanderthalensis - girl, male, H. sapiens sapiens

A mix of hominid (genus Homo) depictions; (from right to left) H. habilis, H. ergaster, H. erectus; H. antecessor - male, female, H. heidelbergensis; H. neanderthalensis - girl, male, H. sapiens sapiens. Public Domain

Prof Fred Spoor of University College London and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig tells BBC News, “By discovering a new fossil and re-analysing an old one we have truly contributed to our knowledge of our own evolutionary period, stretching over a million years that had been shrouded in mystery.”

Featured Image: The 2.8 million-year-old fossilized jawbone with small teeth which may be a transitional fossil between primitive and modern man. Credit: Brian Villmoare

By Liz Leafloor

Comments

Very interesting & beautiful papers, but as usual, the discoverers think they've found a Missing Link. Most likely, the fossil (2.8 Ma) is no Homo, perhaps not even closer related to us than to one of the African apes. The mandible looks most like that of an Au.afarensis (female?), perhaps it's simply a late relative of Lucy or Dikika, who lived in the same region, in a comparable environment (although probably generally more open): gallery forest, paleo-lake, near-shore delta-plain with Kobus & Tragelaphus marsh antelopes, Deinotherium, hippos, crocodiles & fish, IOW, not really "in broad agreement with hypotheses addressing the role of environmental forcing in hominin evolution at this time" (= the usual savanna-biased thinking: "Ape->Man = forest->plain-running"). The authors have the unfortunate & misleading paleo-anthropological habit of using the term "primitive" when they mean apelike, and "derived" or "advanced" when they mean Homo-like: it would have been much clearer when they simply used "apelike" (or more correctly chimp-, bonobo- or gorilla-like), or else "Homo-like". In any case, the papers confirm that most australopiths lived in wetlands, where they spent a lot more time in the swamp than lowland gorillas today still do (google "Ndoki"), wading bipedally & feeding on waterside & floating vegetation, google "aquarboreal", or see my paper "The aquatic ape evolves: common misconceptions and unproven assumptions about the so-called Aquatic Ape Hypothesis" Hum.Evol.28:237-266, 2013, google "researchGate marc verhaegen".

How many of these fossils even exist? Is there a large enough set to extrapolate that this was a breeding population and not just a genetic abnormality? If an anthropologist found fossil remains of person who had dwarfism he would conclude that this was a distinct species of small humans...? I hate when they jump to a conclusion with a single fossil. This doesn't overturn anything. At least real Anthropologists like Robert Leakey did the work before publishing he had discovered an actual species.

Well, based on what we know these days, compared to 100, 50, 25 or even 10 years ago, what we have here is another case of very old archaic African extinct monkey bones. We know now that there were various different types of hominids walking the continent that we today call Africa, these bones probably very well did have a history with todays African peoples, as we know that large segments of them contain dna from an extinct species of hominid about one million years ago. True Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal skeletal remains have never been found in Africa. I also notice that the reconstructions and physical recreations always look very much like todays Africans, and not Eurasians. I've come across many blacks who look like Lucy and the extinct Homo Erectus portrayed at the top left

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

A Malakulan spider web mask.
Spider webs are sticky, somewhat creepy, and generally not something you like to see in your house. But they are also intricate and beautiful when the right light hits them. Even more intriguing than the process and formation of a spider web is when the silk from said web is used for alternative purposes.

Myths & Legends

King Haraldr hárfagri receives the kingdom out of his father's hands. From the 14th century Icelandic manuscript Flateyjarbók.
Myths and legends – purely the creation of creative and imaginative minds, right? Not necessarily. Numerous stories, sagas, and texts from the ancient past have been proven to hold facts. For example, a 2013 study validates an intriguing idea presented in the Icelander Sagas - Vikings were probably less brutal than many people assume.

Opinion

The ancient and mysterious Sphinx, Giza, Egypt.
In 1995, NBC televised a prime-time documentary hosted by actor Charlton Heston and directed by Bill Cote, called Mystery of the Sphinx. The program centered on the research and writings of John Anthony West, a (non-academic) Egyptologist, who, along with Dr. Robert Schoch, a professor of Geology at Boston University, made an astounding discovery on the Great Sphinx of Giza in Egypt.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article