Fossil discovery suggests humans may be half a million years older than we thought

A 2.8 million-year-old jawbone might be about to rewrite our family tree. Researchers working in Ethiopia have unearthed the oldest human fossil ever, and the discovery could push back the origin of the Homo genus by half a million years.

The lower jaw fossil has been described in two simultaneous papers published in Science today (here and here), and is helping to shed some light on the mysterious origin of our human family in eastern Africa. The fossil, which was first found in 2013, has been dated to around 2.8 million years old, at least 400,000 years older than any previous Homo fossil.

“There is a big gap in the fossil record between about 2.5 million and 3 million years ago – there’s virtually nothing relating to the ancestors of Homo from that time period, in spite of a lot of people looking,” co-author of the study Brian Villmoare from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas told Charles Q. Choi from Live Science. “Now we have a fossil of Homo from this time, the earliest evidence of Homo yet.”

Excitingly, the fossil was found extremely close to the last known remnants of Australopithecus afarensis, a hominid species that many researchers believe was the direct ancestor of the Homo genus. A. afarensis is best known from the skeleton, Lucy. Only around 200,000 years separate the remains of Lucy and the newly discovered Homo jaw bone, known as LD 350-1, and it helps to paint a clearer picture than we’ve ever had before about our heritage. Via Fossil discovery suggests humans may be half a million years older than we thought

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