Scientists working 150 miles northeast of Nairobi in Kenyas Baringo district have discovered the remains of what may be the earliest human ancestor known. At a news conference yesterday, the team reported that the bones date to at least six millions years ago, which makes them more than 1.5 million years older than Ethiopian fossils previously held to represent the earliest hominid. The French and Kenyan researchers found the first remains of the new hominid, nicknamed Millennium Man, in late October. Since then they have unearthed bones belonging to at least five individuals. "Not only is this find older than any else previously known," team member Martin Pickford of the College of France said, according to a Reuters report, "it is also in a more advanced stage of evolution." Among the new hominids advanced features are its upper leg bones, which suggest that the chimpanzee-sized Millennium Man walked upright, and its dentition: its small canines and large molars are similar to the modern condition. Exactly how this proto-human relates to other ancient members of the hominid family, however, remains to be seen. For now the team plans to publish its initial findings, and push ahead with excavation. "I am sure there is still a lot more out there," Pickford said, "possibly even older."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)
Kate Wong is a senior editor for evolution and ecology at Scientific American.
Credit: Nick Higgins