JOURNAL ARTICLE

New hominid fossils from Woranso-Mille (Central Afar, Ethiopia) and taxonomy of early Australopithecus

Yohannes Haile-Selassie, Beverly Z Saylor, Alan Deino, Mulugeta Alene, Bruce M Latimer
American Journal of Physical Anthropology 2010, 141 (3): 406-17
19918995
The phylogenetic relationship between Australopithecus anamensis and Australopithecus afarensis has been hypothesized as ancestor-descendant. However, the weakest part of this hypothesis has been the absence of fossil samples between 3.6 and 3.9 million years ago. Here we describe new fossil specimens from the Woranso-Mille site in Ethiopia that are directly relevant to this issue. They derive from sediments chronometrically dated to 3.57-3.8 million years ago. The new fossil specimens are largely isolated teeth, partial mandibles, and maxillae, and some postcranial fragments. However, they shed some light on the relationships between Au. anamensis and Au. afarensis. The dental morphology shows closer affinity with Au. anamensis from Allia Bay/Kanapoi (Kenya) and Asa Issie (Ethiopia) than with Au. afarensis from Hadar (Ethiopia). However, they are intermediate in dental and mandibular morphology between Au. anamensis and the older Au. afarensis material from Laetoli. The new fossils lend strong support to the hypothesized ancestor-descendant relationship between these two early Australopithecus species. The Woranso-Mille hominids cannot be unequivocally assigned to either taxon due to their dental morphological intermediacy. This could be an indication that the Kanapoi, Allia Bay, and Asa Issie Au. anamensis is the primitive form of Au. afarensis at Hadar with the Laetoli and Woranso-Mille populations sampling a mosaic of morphological features from both ends. It is particularly difficult to draw a line between Au. anamensis and Au. afarensis in light of the new discoveries from Woranso-Mille. The morphology provides no evidence that Au. afarensis and Au. anamensis represent distinct taxa.

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