Human Genetic Trees

It looks like Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons weren’t the only time the human genetic tree split.

The discoverer of the famous “Lucy” fossil says fresh findings suggest that more than one ancient species made the transition to more humanlike forms in different parts of Africa.

Arizona State University paleoanthropologist Don Johanson shook up the scientific world in 1974 when he came across the traces of a 3.2 million-year-old skeleton in Ethiopia, a pre-human ancestor that came to be called Lucy. A similar shake-up may well be in the works due to the detailed analysis of another set of 1.977 million-year-old bones found in South Africa.

In a series of studies published this week in the journal Science, researchers make a strong case that the bones, ascribed to a species called Australopithecus sediba, illustrate how the bodies of humanlike primates became more suited for upright walking, tool-making — and bigger brains.

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