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Research team discovers cranium of 3.8-million-year-old early human ancestor

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Posted at 1:09 PM, Aug 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-30 07:51:30-04

(WXYZ) — An international research team, including a University of Michigan geologist, discovered the cranium of a 3.8-million-year-old early human ancestor at an Ethiopian paleontological site.

The team was led by Yohannes Haile-Selassie, a Cleveland Museum of Natural History curator, and an adjunct professor at Case Western Reserve University. UM Geologist Naomi Levin coordinated environmental reconstructions at the site.

The cranium, or MRD, was discovered at the site in 2016. In the years following the discovery, researchers conducted analyses and worked to determine the the age and context of the specimen.

According to a news release from the University of Michigan, the MRD represents a time interval between 4.1 and 3.6 million years ago.

MRD shares new information on the overall craniofacial morphology of Australopithecus anamensis, a species that is widely accepted to have been the ancestor of Lucy's species, Australopithecus afarensis.

"This is a game changer in our understanding of human evolution during the Pliocene," Haile-Selassie said.