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Lucy's Ancestors Revealed

Australopithecus anamensis is humanity's oldest known ancestor. And now, it has a face. Thanks to a newly discovered 3.8 million-year-old cranium fossil from Ethiopia, researchers can now see what this hominin looked like, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Scientists have long known that A. anamensis existed. It's not only an early ancestor to modern humans, but also an ancestor to Lucy, the famous A. afarensis partial skeleton found in Ethiopia in 1974. Previous fossils of A. anamensis extend back to 4.2 million years ago, but the facial remains have been limited to jaws and teeth, the LA Times says.

The newly reported cranium fossil, as was described this week in Nature by a team led by Cleveland Museum of Natural History paleoanthropologist Yohannes Haile-Selassie, includes much of the skull and face. It apparently came from a male, the LA Times reports. It juts forward more than Lucy's, which was flatter. 

Other work has also shown that this species A. anamensis walked upright, but there's no evidence that it made tools, the LA Times notes.

William Kimbel, director of the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University, tells the newspaper that the discovery will help fill a gap in information on the earliest evolution of the Australopithecines. For example, the study's authors noted that A. anamensis was around for about 100,000 years after Lucy's species arrived, contradicts the theory that the two species never overlapped. Knowing about such an overlap could help evolutionary biologists determine how one species evolved from the next.