Scientists Identify Oldest Human Fossil

SCIENCE

Two lower jawbones point to East Africa as the birthplace of our evolutionary lineage. One jaw is a new discovery, while one was discovered by the Leakey family 50 years ago. (Nat Geo News)

Read our interviews with Meave and Louise Leakey to understand the evolving life of a paleoanthropologist.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.

Richard Leakey displays four skulls spanning 300,000 years of hominin evolution in East Africa. On the left is a fossil of Paranthropus aethiopicus, a distinct branch on the hominid family tree. On the right are a Homo habilis, Homo erectus (my favorid hominid!), and Homo rudolfensis, early ancestors to our own species, Homo sapiens sapiens. Photograph by Kenneth Garrett, National Geographic

Richard Leakey displays four skulls spanning 300,000 years of hominin evolution in East Africa. On the left is a fossil of Paranthropus aethiopicus, a distinct branch on the family tree. On the right are Homo habilis, Homo erectus (my favorid extinct hominin!), and Homo rudolfensis, early ancestors to our own species, Homo sapiens sapiens.
Photograph by Kenneth Garrett, National Geographic

Discussion Ideas

 

  • Why aren’t all scientists convinced LD 350-1 points to East African origins for human evolution?
    • The fossil record is faaaaaar from complete! There is a lot left to be discovered. (Get digging!) “You could put . . . all [hominin fossils dating from 2-3 million years ago] into a small shoe box and still have room for a good pair of shoes,” says Kimbel.

 

  • Where else might Homo species have originated?

 

  • Who is Lucy?
    • Lucy is the nickname of the Australopithecus aferensis specimen AL 288-1, discovered in 1974 in Hadar, Ethiopia. Lucy’s skeleton is much older and much more complete than LD 350-1, the newly discovered hominin jawbone. Read more about Lucy’s discovery here.

 

  • Who is Handy Man? How did he earn that nickname?
    • Handy Man is the nickname of the first specimen of Homo habilis, an early ancestor much younger (by more than a million years) than Lucy and her A. aferensis pals.
    • Handy Man earned his nickname because he was found with sediments that also contained the oldest stone tools discovered at that time. (Older tools have since been found.)

 

  • How does LD 350-1 link Lucy and Handy Man?
    • It may not! The fossil record is wildly incomplete.
    • Remember, LD 350-1 is a “transitional” fossil, younger than Lucy but older than Handy Man. LD 350-1 “has turned up as if ‘on request,’ suggesting a plausible evolutionary link between Australopithecus afarensis and Homo habilis,” says Fred Spoor of University College, London and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

 

TEACHERS’ TOOLKIT

Nat Geo: Oldest Human Fossil Found, Redrawing Family Tree

Nat Geo: Real-World Geography: Dr. Meave Leakey

Nat Geo: Real-World Geography: Dr. Louise Leakey

African Fossils (find your favorite and examine it just like a paleontologist!)

(extra credit) Science: Early Homo at 2.8 Ma from Ledi-Geraru, Afar, Ethiopia (warning: behind a paywall)

(extra credit) Nature: Reconstructed Homo habilis type OH 7 suggests deep-rooted species diversity in early Homo

One response to “Scientists Identify Oldest Human Fossil

  1. Man was created by God. The skulls discovered belonged to the giant gorillas that may have found extinction.

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