The search for the earliest fossil evidence of the human lineage has been concentrated in East Africa. Here we report the discovery of six hominid specimens from Chad, central Africa, 2,500 km from the East African Rift Valley. The fossils include a nearly complete cranium and fragmentary lower jaws. The associated fauna suggest the fossils are between 6 and 7 million years old. The fossils display a unique mosaic of primitive and derived characters, and constitute a new genus and species of hominid. The distance from the Rift Valley, and the great antiquity of the fossils, suggest that the earliest members of the hominid clade were more widely distributed than has been thought, and that the divergence between the human and chimpanzee lineages was earlier than indicated by most molecular studies.
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We thank the Chadian Authorities (Ministère de l'Education Nationale de l'Enseignement Supérieur et de la Recherche, Université de N'djaména, CNAR). We extend gratitude for their support to the French Ministries, Ministère Français de l'Education Nationale (Faculté des Sciences, Université de Poitiers), Ministère de la Recherche (CNRS), Ministère des Affaires Etrangères (Direction de la Coopération Scientifique, Universitaire et de Recherche, Paris, and SCAC Ambassade de France à N'djaména), to the Région Poitou-Charentes, the Département de la Vienne, the Association pour le Prix scientifique Philip Morris, and also to the Armée Française (MAM and Epervier) for logistic support. For giving us the opportunity to work with their collections, we are grateful to the National Museum of Ethiopia, the National Museum of Kenya, the Peabody Museum and Harvard University, the Institute of Human Origins and the University of California. Special thanks to Scanner-IRM Poitou Charentes (P. Chartier and F. Perrin), for industrial scanner to EMPA (A. Flisch Ing. HTL) and to Multimedia Laboratorium-Computer Department, University of Zurich-Irchel (P. Stucki). Many thanks to all our colleagues and friends for their help and discussion, and particularly to F. Clark Howell, A. Garaudel, Y. Haile-Selassie, D. Johanson, W. Kimbel, M. G. Leakey, D. Lieberman, R. Macchiarelli, M. Pickford, B. Senut, G. Suwa, T. White and Lubaka. We especially thank all the other MPFT members who joined us for the field missions, and V. Bellefet, S. Riffaut and J.-C. Bertrand for technical support. We are most grateful to G. Florent for administrative guidance. We dedicate this article to J. D. Clark. All authors are members of the MPFT.