Study Shows Ancient Human Relatives

Posted August 8th, 2012 at 9:55 pm (UTC-5)
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A famous research family that found fossils recently in northern Kenya says the discovery strengthens their theory that there were two other pre-human species in addition to the one that eventually led to modern humans eons ago.

A team led by the daughter-in-law of famed paleontologist Louis Leakey found facial bones from one creature and jaw bones from two others between 2007 and 2009. Meave Leakey said her team's subsequent research led it to conclude that man's early ancestor, Homo erectus, had human-like company nearly two million years ago in Africa.

In their new findings, published online Wednesday in the journal Nature, the scientists said none of their newest fossil discoveries matches Homo erectus, a species that originated in Africa and spread as far as India, China and modern-day Indonesia. So the scientists concluded the remains had to come from another flat-faced, relatively large species with big teeth.

Meave Leakey is quoted as saying the new specimens, which match a fossil her family helped discover 40 years ago, have “a really distinct profile” and are “something very different” from Homo erectus, discovered in Java more than a century ago.

The Associated Press quotes two prominent scientists, University of California Berkeley evolutionary biologist Tim White and University of Michigan anthropologist Milfor Wolpoff, as saying they believe the Leakeys need more evidence to support their theory.