New find, old questions

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June 01, 2015

Butele is a paleontological locality in the Afar region of Ethiopia, near the better known sites of Gona and Hadar (where Australopithecus afarensis -  Lucy was found in 1974).

Yohannes Haile-Selassie is a paleoanthropologist who has been leading a team researching Butele and announced a most interesting find on May 28 in the journal Nature with the title “New species from Ethiopia further expands Middle Pliocene hominin diversity”.

He and his fellow authors claim to have found a new species in the genus Australopithecus, dated to nearly three and half million years old. They have assigned the name Australopithecus dyiremeda, meaning “close relative in the Afar language. The fossilized remains contain dentognathic material, i.e., jaws and teeth.

In their paper Haile-Selassie et al. distinguish Au. dyiremeda from from several temporally close hominins. The abstract reads, “The new remains described here show clear similarities with Australopithecus and lack the diagnostic features of Ardipithecus, Paranthropus, Kenyanthropus and Homo. Various aspects of dentognathic morphology distinguish these specimens from the contemporaneous Au. afarensis and warrant their assignment to a new species.”

However skepticism has been expressed these differences substantiate the designation of a new species.

Wikipedia offers a short article on this find and appends several references of interest.