The history of human evolution might be rewritten once again, after the discovery of fossils in East Africa. It turns out that another distinct species of human ancestor, Homo rudolfensis (or simply “1470”), lived from 1.78 million to 1.95 million years ago along with already known ancestors, Homo habilis and Homo erectus, which preceded today’s modern human, Homo sapiens.
The discovery, made by Dr. Meave Leakey (wife of world-renowned paleontologist Richard Leakey) of the Turkana Institute in Nairobi, Kenya, and presented in the journal Nature, made the human family tree of six million years even more complex.
Three fossils (one face and two jawbones) were found between 2007 – 2009 in the east of Lake Turkana, located ten kilometers away from the fossilized skull of a mysterious human ancestor discovered in 1972 and named “1470”.
The skull, which dates from 2.03 million years ago, has a remarkably wide and long face and big brain, which differentiates it from other fossils of similar age belonging to earlier human ancestors, Homo habilis and Homo erectus.
The fossils belong to a species that was quite different from Homo erectus, who appeared about 1.8 million years ago and anatomically is the direct ancestor of the modern human.
As it seems, there was a period when at least three different human kinds coexisted in the African continent. However, according to the scientists, it remains unclear whether and to what extent Homo habilis and Homo rudolfensis were ancestors of Homo erectus and later of Homo sapiens, or whether they were relatives that evolved in parallel.
The finding shows that in all probability, there was no linear and smooth evolution from ape to modern human, but it was a path with several branches, as it has happened in many other species when nature was testing several “prototypes” to find the best one.
Featured image: Emőke Dénes, CC BY-SA 4.0
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