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Ethiopian Fossil Find Shows Lucy Had Tree-Climbing Cousin

March 29, 2012

William Davison
(Bloomberg) — A partial fossil of a pre-human foot has been found in Ethiopia, which researchers said proves there were two species of hominins existing around 3.4 million years ago.

It was previously thought that Australopithecus afarensis, a slender-built hominid known as Lucy, was the only ancestor of humans living at that time, research team leader Yohannes Haile- Selassie told reporters in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, today.

The new find, which has a big toe that is splayed out to the side demonstrating an ability to climb trees, shows similarities with an ancestor that lived 4.4 million years ago, said Yohannes. The fossil differs from Lucy’s toes, which are aligned with each other.

“We never expected to find a foot like this with an opposable toe at 3.4 million years,” he said. The findings from the discovery of the so-called Burtele Partial Foot will be published in science journal Nature tomorrow, Yohannes said.

The “eight elements of a right foot” were found by the Woranso-Mille Paleontological Project in February 2009 in Burtele, 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of Hadar town, in Ethiopia’s northeastern Afar region. Lucy was also discovered in Afar.

Cranial or dental specimens are needed to decide what species of pre-human it belongs to, Yohannes said.

“We don’t have the evidence to say it belongs to this species or this genus,” he said. Other findings from the area show that the creature lived in the same area as hippopotamuses, fish, crocodiles and turtles near a “large body of water and abundant forest cover,” said Yohannes.

–Editors: Emily Bowers, Vernon Wessels

To contact the reporter on this story: William Davison in Addis Ababa at wdavison3@bloomberg.net

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