New species from Ethiopia further expands Middle Pliocene hominin diversity


Middle Pliocene hominin species diversity has been a subject of debate over the past two decades, particularly after the naming of Australopithecus bahrelghazali and Kenyanthropus platyops in addition to the well-known species Australopithecus afarensis. Further analyses continue to support the proposal that several hominin species co-existed during this time period. Here we recognize a new hominin species (Australopithecus deyiremeda sp. nov.) from 3.3–3.5-million-year-old deposits in the Woranso–Mille study area, central Afar, Ethiopia. The new species from Woranso–Mille shows that there were at least two contemporaneous hominin species living in the Afar region of Ethiopia between 3.3 and 3.5 million years ago, and further confirms early hominin taxonomic diversity in eastern Africa during the Middle Pliocene epoch. The morphology of Au. deyiremeda also reinforces concerns related to dentognathic (that is, jaws and teeth) homoplasy in Plio–Pleistocene hominins, and shows that some dentognathic features traditionally associated with Paranthropus and Homo appeared in the fossil record earlier than previously thought.

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Figure 1: Holotype BRT-VP-3/1.
Figure 2: Location map for the Burtele collection area and the BRT-VP-1, BRT-VP-2, BRT-VP-3 and WYT-VP-2 localities.
Figure 3: Palaeomagnetic directions for 16 samples collected from the composite stratigraphic section at Burtele.
Figure 4: Box-and-whisker diagrams comparing dental dimensions of the holotype BRT-VP-3/1 with other early hominins.
Figure 5: Bivariate plots of mandibular corpus height and breadth among early hominins.
Figure 6: Cladogram depicting the majority-rule consensus of 17 equally parsimonious trees that result from a phylogenetic analysis of the features preserved in the Au. deyiremeda hypodigm.


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We thank the Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage and the Afar Regional State of Ethiopia for permission to conduct field and laboratory research, the Afar people of the Woranso–Mille area for their hospitality, and the project’s fieldwork crew members for their incredible contributions in our fieldwork endeavours. We would also like to thank S. W. Simpson and W. H. Kimbel for their constructive comments and discussions throughout the preparation of this manuscript; G. Suwa, T. White and B. Asfaw for access to the original Ardipithecus ramidus material; W. H. Kimbel for access to the original Australopithecus afarensis material; F. Spoor for discussion of Kenyanthropus platyops morphology and Lomekwi mandibular metrics; D. F. Su for comments and assistance with the figures. This research was financially supported by grants from the LSB Leakey Foundation, the National Geographic Society, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and the National Science Foundation (BCS-0234320, BCS-0321893, BCS-0542037, BCS-1124705, BCS-1124713, BCS-1124716, BCS-1125157 and BCS-1125345).

Author information




Y.H.-S. directed the field research. A.D., B.Z.S., M.A., L.G. and S.M.M. participated in the field research. T.M.R. conducted the computed tomography scanning and made the virtual reconstructions. A.D., B.Z.S., L.G. and M.A. studied the geological context, while L.G. and G.S. conducted the palaeomagnetic analysis. S.M.M. conducted the phylogenetic analysis. Y.H.-S. and S.M.M. made comparative observations and carried out analyses. Y.H.-S. took the lead in writing the paper with contributions from all coauthors.

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Correspondence to Yohannes Haile-Selassie.

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The LSID has been deposited in ZooBank.

Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 Computed-tomography-based visualization of BRT-VP-3/1.

a, Lateral view. b, Medial view. c, Anterior view. d, Palatal view. e, Superior view. f, Palatal view mirror-imaged on midline. g, Superior view mirror-imaged on midline. Computed-tomography-based cross-sections of BRT-VP-3/1. h, Sagittal cross-section along the centre of the dental row showing root morphology. i, Sagittal cross-section at I1. j, Transverse cross-section along the roots showing the number of roots of each tooth. k, Sagittal cross-section at I2. l, Midsagittal cross-section showing the shape of the palatine process and nasoalveolar clivus. m, Transverse cross-section across the incisors and the canine.

Extended Data Figure 2 Computed-tomography-based visualization of BRT-VP-3/14.

a, Right lateral view. b, Left lateral view. c, Sagittal cross-section along the centre of the right dental row showing root morphology. d, Sagittal cross-section along the centre of the left dental row showing root morphology. e, Occlusal view. f, Transverse cross-section along the roots showing the number of roots of each tooth. Note that the premolars have several roots. g, Basal view. h, Symphyseal cross-section. Computed-tomography-based visualization of WYT-VP-2/10. i, Right lateral view. j, Medial view. k, Occlusal view. l, Basal view. m, Sagittal cross-section along the centre of the dental row showing root morphology. n, Symphyseal cross-section. o, Transverse cross-section along the roots showing the number of roots of each tooth.

Extended Data Figure 3 Magnetostratigraphy.

a, Magnetostratigraphy for the Burtele area, measured in five subsections beginning with the oldest strata in the southwest (BRT-VP-3), to the youngest at BRT-VP-2 (see Fig. 2 for sub-sections locations). This stratigraphy consists predominantly of claystones/siltstones alternating with sandstones, and includes a 20-cm carbonate bed, a 2–6-m basalt flow, and a 5-cm tuff bed. The sandstones occupy slightly sinuous fluvial channels with a low width/depth ratio in a weakly confined setting. The sandstone beds are continuous and interestratified with pedogenically modified fine-grained overbank and ephemeral lake deposits. The proportion of sandstones increases upwards in the section, where it is accompanied by the occurrence of celestine nodules indicating increased aridity. Sixteen palaeomagnetic samples were obtained from fine-grained lithologies. All samples demonstrate normal polarity (black bars), interpreted as belonging to a single polarity chron C2An.3n (3.596–3.330 Myr old) of the Astronomically Tuned Neogene Time Scale (ATNTS2004). b, Orthogonal demagnetization diagrams showing vector endpoints after alternating field and thermal demagnetization for samples MB13.1Aa and FS12.2b. Horizontal projections are shown as squares, vertical projection as diamonds, and NRM (4 mT) starting point as star. c, Palaeomagnetic directions for the Burtele stratigraphy from samples collected a long different stratigraphic horizons. Stereographic projection referenced to magnetic North (declination 2° E), with solid symbols on lower hemisphere (plus inclination). Represented directions are the mean directions for each sample from three specimens. The start shows the location of the expected normal direction for this latitude (000/22).

Extended Data Figure 4 Comparisons of midsagittal cross section of the hard palate and nasoalveolar clivus.

a, BRT-VP-3/1. b, A.L. 444-2. c, A.L. 200-1. d, A.L. 486-1. e, A.L. 427-1. f, A.L. 199-1. g. A.L. 442-1. Note that the overlap between the hard palate and the nasolalveolar clivus of BRT-VP-3/1 is small relative to most Au. afarensis specimens. Midsagittal cross-sections of Au. afarensis maxillae were modified from Fig. 5.22 in ref. 9.

Extended Data Figure 5 BRT-VP-3/1 (reversed) and BRT-VP-3/14 shown in occlusion.

The upper canine is aligned mesial to the P3. Despite the apparently large size of the mandible (BRT-VP-3/14), the maxilla (BRT-VP-3/1) is only slightly smaller. The position of the second molars is indicated to show that the canine-to-second-molar length is comparable in both specimens.

Extended Data Table 1 Measurements of the paratype mandibles
Extended Data Table 2 Statistical summary of measurements of early hominin maxillae and upper dentition
Extended Data Table 3 Enamel thickness measurements
Extended Data Table 4 Three-dimensional and two-dimensional average and relative enamel thicknesses
Extended Data Table 5 Mandibular dental dimensions (P3–M3) and robusticity indices (at the M1 and M2 levels) of Au. deyiremeda and other Plio-Pleistocene hominins

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Haile-Selassie, Y., Gibert, L., Melillo, S. et al. New species from Ethiopia further expands Middle Pliocene hominin diversity. Nature 521, 483–488 (2015).

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