New breed of early human unearthed

Famed paleontologist Meave Leakey and her team at the National Museums of Kenya have unearthed a 3.5-million-year-old, battered but nearly complete skull of what they classify as a new breed of early human. The discovery at a lakeshore in northern Kenya, which will be reported Thursday in the British journal Nature, adds to growing evidence contradicting the long-held notion that only a single human-like species inhabited Earth between 3.5 million and 2 million years ago, scientists are quoted by UPI as saying. In this scenario, a single common human ancestor, Australopithecus afarensis - best known from the partial skeleton found in Ethiopia in 1974 and popularly called "Lucy" - gave rise to successive species over 3 million years, each progressively more human-like, to produce what we are today. But the 36 pieces of jawbone, teeth and other specimens unearthed by Dr. Leakey and company during the 1998 and 1999 National Geographic Society project on the rugged shore of Lake Turkana point to serious flaws in this picture. The new finding "shows persuasively that at least two lineages existed as far back as 3.5 million years; the early stages of human evolution are more complex than we previously thought," said Dr. Leakey, whose name is much respected in the field of paleoanthropology.

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