ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (CBS) — A famous fossil that holds key to scientific evidence of human evolution returned home in Ethiopia Wednesday after a five-year tour activity abroad.
Discovered by an archaeological team led by U.S. scientist Donald C. Johanson in 1974, the fossil was then confirmed to have represented 40 percent of a skeleton of an individual Australopithecus afarensishave that has lived 3.2 million years ago. The well-known name of Lucy came from a Beatles song “Lucy in the sky with diamonds” as the song was then played to celebrate the fossil’s discovery.
“I think Lucy’s message to humanity is really that we all have a common origin. We have a common beginning and a common ancestor. We are united by our past,” said Professor Donald C. Johason, Lucy’s discoverer. Read more.
Researchers have been able to trace a line between some of the earliest modern humans to settle in China and people living in the region today.
The evidence comes from DNA extracted from a 40,000-year-old leg bone found in a cave near Beijing.
Results show that the person it belonged to was related to the ancestors of present-day Asians and Native Americans.
The results are published in the journal PNAS.
Humans who looked broadly like present-day people started to appear in the fossil record of Eurasia between 40,000 and 50,000 years ago.
But many questions remain about the genetic relationships between these early modern humans and present-day Homo sapiens populations. Read more.
A rare fossil of a rhinoceros that roamed what is now Turkey reveals the tale of a sudden violent death—by volcano, 9.2 million years ago.
The ancient rhino’s skull and jaw have a rough surface and brittle teeth. Paleontologist Pierre-Olivier Antoine of the University of Montpellier in France thinks that’s because volcanic rock fragments from the Cardak caldera pelted the rhino. A speeding river of ash and rock probably dismembered the animal and “baked” its skull at temperatures reaching 840ºF (450°C).
Just 2 percent of fossils are found in volcanic rock, because the heat usually incinerates organic matter. It’s even rarer to find a mammal fossil. Read more.
A seven million-year-old South American fossil from a species known as Arrhinolemur scalabrinii — which translates literally to “Scalabrini’s lemur without a nose” — has long been a curiosity because there is only one specimen in existence and it is unlike most other primates.
There is a reason for that, scientists have discovered. The lemur without a nose is actually a fish.
Classified as a mammal since it was first described in 1898, Arrhinolemur scalabrinii will at last take its rightful place among its piscatorial brethren following a detailed analysis by scientists from Argentina, Oregon State University and the Smithsonian Institution. Results of their analysis have just been published in the professional journal Neotropical Ichthyology. Read more.
A newfound squirrel-tailed specimen is the oldest known meat-eating dinosaur with feathers, according to a new study. The late-Jurassic discovery, study authors say, strikes down the image of dinosaurs as “overgrown lizards.”
Unearthed recently from a Bavarian limestone quarry, the “exquisitely preserved” 150-million-year-old fossil has been dubbed Sciurumimus albersdoerferi—”Scirius” being the scientific name for tree squirrels.
Sciurumimus was likely a young megalosaur, a group of large, two-legged meat-eating dinosaurs. The hatchling had a large skull, short hind limbs, and long, hairlike plumage on its midsection, back, and tail.
“I was overwhelmed when I first saw it. Even apart from the preservation of feathers, this is certainly one of the most beautiful dinosaur fossils ever found,” Read more.
German scientists have just reported an extraordinary discovery: the first known pairs of mating vertebrate fossils.
And along with the thrill of a fossil first comes another possible breakthrough. The 47-million-year-old turtle remains offer clues to how a prehistoric lake became one of the world’s richest fossil troves.
“Just finding these couples is completely unique worldwide,” lead study author Walter Joyce said. “There are no other vertebrate fossils to be found like this.”
The turtle pairs were discovered in Messel Pit, a tropical lake turned Lagerstätten—paleontologist speak for a “really, really, really, spectacular place for fossils,” according to Columbia University’s Mark Norell. Read more.
ScienceDaily — A team of scientists has announced the discovery of a 3.4 million-year-old partial foot from the Woranso-Mille area of the Afar region of Ethiopia. The fossil foot did not belong to a member of “Lucy’s” species, Australopithecus afarensis, the famous early human ancestor. Research on this new specimen indicates that more than one species of early human ancestor existed between 3 and 4 million years ago with different methods of locomotion.
The analysis will be published in the March 29, 2012 issue of the journal Nature.
The partial foot was found in February 2009 in an area locally known as Burtele.
“The Burtele partial foot clearly shows that at 3.4 million years ago, Lucy’s species, which walked upright on two legs, was not the only hominin species living in this region of Ethiopia,” said lead author and project leader Dr. Yohannes Haile-Selassie, curator of physical anthropology at The Cleveland Museum of Natural History. “Her species co-existed with close relatives who were more adept at climbing trees, like ‘Ardi’s’ species, Ardipithecus ramidus, which lived 4.4 million years ago.” Read more.
The Sicevo Gorge is a rugged, picturesque river canyon cut into the Kunivica plateau in southeastern Serbia. Containing a nature park, it draws visitors for its beautiful landscape, the result of the occurrence and interaction of geological, geomorphological and hydrological phenomena. But it also contains a series of caves, at least one of which has yielded evidence of human presence during the shifting glacial times of the Ice Age of present-day Europe. The Gorge was placed on the map of popular attention when, in 2008, anthropologists uncovered a partial human mandible (lower jaw), complete with three teeth, while excavating in a small cave.
“We were looking for Neanderthals,” said Dr. Mirjana Roksandic, a participating paleoanthropologist with the University of Winnepeg and a leading research team member. “But this is much better.”
What they discovered was a fossil specimen, definitely a human that, at least in terms of morphology, predated the Neanderthal and may have had more in common, physically, with Homo erectus, thought by many scientists to be the precursor to Neanderthals and Homo sapiens (modern humans). Read more.