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 3.5million 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.The Washington Post has a write-up of the new find, which they glibly refer to as “An Ethel for Lucy.” Rachel Feltman:
Haile-Selassie and his co-authors believe the find should encourage reexamination of other possible instances of pre-Homo cohabitation. Two other species have been proposed as living at the same time as Australopithecus afarensis -- Australopithecus bahrelghazali and Kenyanthropus platyops -- but both remain controversial, with some scientists saying they aren't different enough from A. afarensis to constitute a new species. And in a previous expedition, Haile-Selassie himself found a partial foot that he believed was from the same time period -- but not the same species -- as Lucy. Unlike the jaw reported in Nature, the foot didn't provide enough evidence to name a new species.As noted with the Ledi jaw, there seems to be quite of a bit of morphological variability and experimentation going on at the Plio-Pleistocene boundary.
1Haile-Selassie, Y., Gibert, L., Melillo, S.M., Ryan, T.M., Alene, M., Deino, A., Levin, N.E., Scott, G., Saylor, B.Z. (2015) New species from Ethiopia further expands Middle Pliocene hominin diversity. Nature. 521(7553): 483-488.