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New Species Of Human Ancestor

Plus Oldest Evidence Yet Of Tool-Assisted Meat-Eating, Reported In 23 April 1999 Science

Note: A Japanese translation of this news release is available upon request.

Washington, DC--Two-and-a-half-million-year-old cranial and tooth remains found in Ethiopia belong to a previously unknown hominid that may have been the immediate predecessor of humans, according to a team of Ethiopian, American, and Japanese researchers. Team members also describe other fossils from the same geological layer showing that hominids--though not necessarily the newly identified species--were walking on humanly proportioned legs and using stone tools to strip meat and scrape marrow from the bones of antelopes and horses. This constitutes the earliest example yet of tool-assisted meat-eating. Two reports describe the finds in the 23 April 1999 issue of Science.

Researchers came across the fossils outside the small village of Bouri, a hard two-day drive northeast of Addis Ababa. The site is located in a harsh, desert region of Ethiopia called the Middle Awash, already famous for other major discoveries such as the oldest known hominid, found by the same team of researchers. The new hominid--dubbed Australopithecus garhi, after the local people's word for "surprise"--possesses features that place it at the forefront of one of the hottest debates in paleoanthropology: from what evolutionary branch did the first humans appear?

"No one predicted garhi," said University of California-Berkeley biologist Tim White, who co-led the team with Berhane Asfaw of Ethiopia's Rift Valley Research Service. Instead, researchers have been looking in eastern Africa for A. africanus, a smallish, upright-walking hominid known to have roamed southern Africa two to three million years ago and thought by many to be the best candidate for humanity's immediate forebear. But in Science, the research team presents
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Contact: Gabe Paal
gpaal@aaas.org
202-326-6421
American Association for the Advancement of Science
23-Apr-1999


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