New hominin genus from eastern Africa shows diverse middle Pliocene lineages

Abstract

Most interpretations of early hominin phylogeny recognize a single early to middle Pliocene ancestral lineage, best represented by Australopithecus afarensis, which gave rise to a radiation of taxa in the late Pliocene. Here we report on new fossils discovered west of Lake Turkana, Kenya, which differ markedly from those of contemporary A. afarensis, indicating that hominin taxonomic diversity extended back, well into the middle Pliocene. A 3.5 Myr-old cranium, showing a unique combination of derived facial and primitive neurocranial features, is assigned to a new genus of hominin. These findings point to an early diet-driven adaptive radiation, provide new insight on the association of hominin craniodental features, and have implications for our understanding of Plio–Pleistocene hominin phylogeny.

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Figure 1: Holotype KNM-WT 40000 a, left lateral view (markers indicate the plane separating the distorted neurocranium and the well-preserved face).
Figure 2: Map showing localities of fossil collection in upper Lomekwi and simplified geology.
Figure 3: Mean and range of characters of specified hominins.
Figure 4: Stratigraphic sections and placement of hominin specimens at sites in upper part of the Lomekwi drainage, west of Lake Turkana, northern Kenya.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the Government of Kenya for permission to carry out this research and the National Museums of Kenya for logistical support. The National Geographic Society funded the field work and some laboratory studies. Neutron irradiations were facilitated by the Australian Institute of Nuclear Science and Engineering and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation. We also thank the Ethiopian Ministry of Information and Culture, the National Museum of Ethiopia, B. Asfaw, Y. Bayene, C. Howell, D. Johanson, W. Kimbel, G. Suwa and T. White for permission to make comparisons with the early Ethiopian hominins and numerous people including N. Adamali, B. Asfaw, C. Dean, C. Feibel, A. Griffiths, W. Kimbel, R. Kruszynski, K. Kupczik, R. Leakey, D. Lieberman, J. Moore, K. Patel, D. Plummer, K. Reed, B. Sokhi, M. Tighe, T. White, and B. Wood for their help. Caltex (Kenya) provided fuel for the field expeditions, and R. Leakey allowed us the use of his aeroplane. The field expedition members included U. Bwana, S. Crispin, G. Ekalale, M. Eragae, J. Erus, J. Ferraro, J. Kaatho, N. Kaling, P. Kapoko, R. Lorinyok, J. Lorot, S. Hagemann, B. Malika, W. Mangao, S. Muge, P. Mulinge , D. Mutinda, K. Muthyoka, N. Mutiwa, W. Mutiwa, B. Onyango, E. Weston and J. Wynn. A. Ibui, F. Kyalo, F. Kirera, N. Malit, E. Mbua, M. Muungu, J. Ndunda, S. Ngui and A. Mwai provided curatorial assistance. The Leakey Foundation awarded a grant to F.B.

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Correspondence to Meave G. Leakey.

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Leakey, M., Spoor, F., Brown, F. et al. New hominin genus from eastern Africa shows diverse middle Pliocene lineages. Nature 410, 433–440 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1038/35068500

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