Imagine the following scene: the East African savannah, three million years ago. Rivers flowed into ancient lakes, large cats and other predators roamed, and—scientists now know—distinct species of hominins, creatures more closely related to humans than to chimps, co-existed.
For decades, scientists have been uncovering evidence suggesting the Ethiopian desert was home to the hominin species Australopithecus afarensis. Au. afarensis, including the iconic fossil Lucy, lived in East Africa between 3 and 3.7 million years ago. New fossil discoveries from the Woranso–Mille in the Afar region of Ethiopia suggest that Lucy’s species had neighbors; Au. afarensis was living at essentially the same time and place as at least one other hominin species.
The new fossils, discovered by a team led by Yohannes Haile-Selassie of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, include fragments of two lower jaws, part of an upper jaw, and a few teeth. The find is especially interesting because it occurred in close proximity to sites where Au. afarensis fossils have been discovered. For example, the well-known Hadar site, which has yielded multiple Au. afarensis individuals, is a mere 35 kilometers away.