A New Genus of Hominins Found in Kenya


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A New Genus of Hominins Found in Kenya


Whenever finding new fossils, most people get excited in learning more about the mysterious history of life on earth. No one fossil finding may be more important than another, but when discovering a fossil that adds a new genus name to a species, it gets exciting. This is especially true when the fossil gives more insight to the evolution of humans.

In Kenya, a new genus of hominins was found. The new genus was assigned because this hominin had a combination of derived facial and primitive neurocranial features. This hominin is guessed to be about 3.5 million years old. The findings lead the scientists to an early diet-driven adaptive radiation, which gives insight on the craniodental features, or the structure of the skull and mouth. The name of the species is Kentanthropus platyops (the Flat-Faced Man of Kenya). This fossil was found in a rugged desert-like site on the western shore of a lake in northern Kenya. This is by the Topernawi river drainages in Turkana district in northern Kenya.

This fossil is known to be twice as old as Lucy, a famous Australopithecus afarensis, which is only about 1.8 million years old itself. The age of this fossil has been established because it was found in between layers of different aged soil. Eight meters below the Tulu Bor Tuff and 12 meters about the Lokochot Tuff is about 3.5 million years old, this is an area called Kataboi Member where the type of specimen is found. The paratype is from lower Lomekwi Member, seventenn meters above the Tulu Bor Tuff, estimating at 3.3 million years old. Kentanthropus platyops is estimated to be about 3.5 million years old itself.

The age can also be estimated aroun 3.5 million years because hominin findings from Lomekwi, two mandibles and isolated molars have previously been found, which indicate the time period. The skull was found amongst a temporal bone that was well-preserved, two partial maxillae, some isolated teeth, and an extremely complete, yet distorted, cranium.

The most astonishing thing about the skull is that it looks remarkably similar to that of a human skull. Note the platyops, platus coming from the Greek word that means flat, and opsis, meaning face. Thus making the name "Flat-Faced Man."

Of course there are many differences than a human skull, but it is extremely similar to that of one.

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Differences include a smaller brain, and a very flat face like that of a human rather than it protruding like an ape. It also has a small ear canal similar to that of a chimpanzee. However, the sex of the hominin has not been discovered because the canine root size does not give enough conclusive evidence. It could be decided that it was a female because of the small M2 crown, but because of the close proximity and raised temporal lines, it also may suggext otherwise. This is because these features have not yet been found in female hominin crania, therefore perhaps suggesting the sex is male.

This research is important because of the naming of the new genus. It is thought to be related to the species Australopithecus afarensis which indicates that a diversity of hominins went far back into the Pliocene era. It is also similar to that of Homo rudolfensis, even though the two were separated by about 1.5 million years. The main similarity is the facial architecture. Features of K. platyops include findings similar to humans, apes, and chimpanzees, and excitingly show million of years of development of all these species.

Compared with the Australopithecus afarensis, the Kentanthropus platyops has more facially derived features and a smaller nasal area. The discovery gives evidence of a more diverse "middle Pliocene hominin record."`

The discovery of new fossils is always great to give us more insight on the histroy of every living thing that has been on this planet, specifically human evolution. The more we discover, the more likely we are to understand more about our own past and to learn more about evolution. More and more fossils will be found for as long as humans are around, which will only bring us to a higher educated level of understanding of evolution.

Sources:

http://www.nature.com/cgi-taf/DynaPage.taf?file=/nature/journal/ v410/n6827/full/410433a0_fs.html

http://www.nature.com/nsu/010322/010322-8.html



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