History was made while few people were looking – a distant relative of Fossil Lucy was discovered in the Afar region of Ethiopa resting peacefully in a mud flat. For anyone that is not aware of who Fossil Lucy is, or just forgot, Fossil Lucy was until the discovery the oldest known hominid (Australopithecus afarensis) ever discovered at an age of about 3.2 million years old. Kadanuumuu, which is the name given to newly discovered hominid fossil, is about 3.6 million years old, and while they share many similarities, it is their differences that make for an interesting discovery.
Everything we knew about our ancient ancestors was built around what was known about Lucy. We knew Lucy was biped who was capable of walking proficiently on two legs. She stood about 3.5 feet tall, and skeletally speaking, was almost a dead ringer for humans as we are today. That is true at least as far as what could be surmised from what was available of her skeleton to study.
Kadanuumuu, which translates to “big man” in the Afar language, was given his name for being 5 feet tall. It is also known that he too was fully capable of walking at least mostly upright on two legs. By combining that factor along with his size, it is now known that the current evolutionary time table may need to be tweaked a little. This truly is something very exciting to researchers as it opens up the door, albeit slim, for countless new avenues of research.
For one thing, this means it is quite possible that Fossil Lucy was someone that was younger at death than previously thought. That may sound like a small thing, but it changes perception so far as it is now known that not all hominids of Lucy’s era were necessarily that small as that would point to taking an evolutionary step backward. Then again, it opens the door for speculating that the male of the species developed faster physically. Then again, it could mean nothing.
It could also mean that given the size and ability of Kadanuumuu to walk much like we do today, perhaps that ability was present as much as a couple of million years earlier than we previously thought – possibly even more. It means that elongation of the legs occurred earlier in the evolutionary process than was previously thought. It could mean many things. The one thing that can be safely said due to this discovery is that the more we learn, the more we find out how little we really know.
The discovery was made by a team led by Owen Lovejoy of of Kent State University and the Cleveland Museum in conjunction with Yohannes Haile-Selassie. Haile-Selassie is acting as the lead author documenting everything from the discovery to the findings after the fact, and when that paper comes out it will certainly make for a fantastic read.