New Fossil Find in Ethiopia

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July 10, 2010

Field work beginning in 2002 in the Afar Depression (Ethiopia) culminated in an announcement three weeks ago of a new addition to the species Australopithecus afarensis. Researchers, led by Yohannes Haile-Selassie co-authored a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of science (PNAS) reporting the discovery, piecing together and analysis of a partially complete male skeleton dated by paleomagnetic and radiometric methods to 3.6 million years ago. Lacking cranial and dental material, this skeleton is said to be clearly bipedal based upon analysis of the many fragments of fossilized bone making up the pelvis, femur and tibia.

A full account of the paper, entitled “An early Australopithecus afarensis postcranium from Woranso-Mille “, can be found on Cosmic Log .

The official designation of the find is KSD-VP-1/1, nicknamed Kadanuumuu, an Afar word meaning “Big Man”. The skeletal material was found in sandstone in the Woronso-Mille paleontological study area that lies some three dozen miles north of Hadar, the fossiliferous site that has yielded since 1973, the most fossils from a single site attributed to a single species, Australopithecus afarensis, the same species designation claimed for Kadanuumuu.

It would be surprising if a new fossil did not raise questions and KSD–VP–1/1 is no exception. The authors state this partial skeleton has arm-to-leg proportions differing from the forty percent complete AL 288-1 (“Lucy”) of this species and the difference is explained by sexual dimorphism (Kadanuumuu is male, Lucy female). If reconstruction of this highly fragmented specimen is accurate, these differing proportions within the same species would be unique within the Hominidae.  Some observers suggest attribution of this find to Au. afarensis, when cranial and dental material is lacking, is premature.