New Fossils Indicate Early Branching of Human Family Tree

Fossil by fossil, scientists over the last 40 years have suspected that their models for the more immediate human family tree — the single trunk, straight as a Ponderosa pine, up from Homo habilis to Homo erectus to Homo sapiens — were oversimplified. The day for that serious revision may be at hand.

The discovery of three new fossil specimens, announced Wednesday, is the most compelling evidence yet for multiple lines of evolution in our own genus, Homo, scientists said. The fossils showed that there were at least two contemporary Homo species, in addition to Homo erectus, living in East Africa as early as two million years ago.

Uncovered from sandstone at Koobi Fora, badlands near Lake Turkana in Kenya, the specimens included a well-preserved skull of a late juvenile with a relatively large braincase and a long, flat face, which has been designated KNM-ER 62000 (62000 for short). It bears a striking resemblance to the enigmatic cranium known as 1470, the center of debate over multiple lineages since its discovery in the same area in 1972....

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