I was actually in Ethiopia when I heard on the national radio of Dr. Yohannes Haile-Selassie‘s new 3.8 million to 3.5 million years ago hominid mandible. I remember it was hot that day, about 116 degrees Fahrenheit or about 47 degrees Celsius, when I heard the news. I was pining over the heat and this news and once it registered in my mind, I was giddy. In fact the entire field team was giddy.
Well, this mandible is an important specimen because it falls right between Australopithecus anamensis which lived about 4.2 million to 3.9 million years ago, and Australopithecus afarensis—the species to which Lucy belonged—thrived from 3.6 million to 3 million years ago, but it doesn’t quite resemble either. Some paleoanthropologists think that Lucy and others of her species were descendants of A. anamensis—and these new Ethiopian jawbones could end that speculation. Dr. Haile-Selassie told National Geographic News,
“This will help us test this very hypothesis and see if we can falsify it or prove it… We have had isolated teeth and [other skeleton parts] from previous years. What we didn’t have was a complete jaw, which we have now.”
On my last day in Ethiopia, I did get a chance to say hello to Dr. Haile-Selassie and introduce myself but our conversation unfortunately didn’t turn into a chance to really sit down to discuss his findings. Come to think of it, I doubt he would spill all his beans to me since we just met. Regardless, he’s not ready to make any hasty conclusions about the relationship between A. anamensis and A. afarensis. He told National Geographic News,
“Two years down the line we may be able to say something about it.”
So we’re gonna have to sit tight and wait until Dr. Haile-Selassie finishes his research. Until then, I do have this photo of the mandible for us to study and drool over:
UPDATE: I’ve just been reading the site’s backlog and realized Tim has covered this news pretty well. Here’s a link to his post on this news.