Linked at last? 4-million-year-old skull connects humans to ‘Lucy’ ancestor

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The remains of Lucy, an ape-like creature that lived 3.5 million years ago, forever changed researchers' understanding of how Homo sapiens evolved. Image credit: Vilem Bischof / AFP/ Dave Einsel / Getty Images

Long before Neanderthals or Homo erectus wandered the Earth, there lived an early human species called Australopithecus afarensis. Most famously represented by the specimen known as Lucy, these ancient hominins lived around 3 million years ago in Eastern Africa and survived for more than 900,000 years. Lucy looks quite different to modern humans, but a new study on the cranium of one of her kin suggests that the two species are more alike than we realized, suggesting it’s time to reconsider our evolutionary tree.

In a paper published in the May edition of the Journal of Human Evolution, a team of South African scientists re-evaluate a four-million-year old Australopithecus skull that was originally found in 1995 in the Sterkfontein Caves, a paleoanthropological treasure trove north-west of Johannesburg, South Africa.

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…with a new technology called X-ray microtomography, the team was able to take a very revealing look at the ancient skull.

Sure enough, their analysis affirmed that the specimen met the taxonomic qualifications to be an Australopithecus and, importantly, demonstrated that this ancient hominin had a cranium that was thick and composed of spongy (or cancellous) bone — much like living humans. The presence of spongy bone indicates that the blood flow in the brain of Australopithecus may have been comparable to ours.

Read full, original post: Ancient Skull Shows Evolutionary Link Between Humans and ‘Lucy’ Hominins

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