Early hominid fossils in Kenya demonstrate their adaptability

Nairobi, March 25 (IANS) An international team of paleontologists has found fossilised remains of an early hominid species in Kenya, demonstrating their adaptability to new environments.

The fossilised teeth and forearm bone from an adult male and two infants from the early hominid species, Australopithecus afarensis, were found exposed in Ongata-Rongai area in the outskirts of Kenya’s capital Nairobi.

“So far, all other A. afarensis fossils had been identified from the centre of the Rift Valley,” said Masato Nakatsukasa of Kyoto University, who was part of the research team led by Emma Mbua of Mount Kenya University.

“A previous Australopithecus bahrelghazali discovery in Chad confirmed that our hominid ancestor’s distribution covered central Africa, but this was the first time an Australopithecus fossil has been found east of the Rift Valley,” Nakatsukasa added.

“This has important implications for what we understand about our ancestor’s distribution range, namely that Australopithecus could have covered a much greater area by this age.”

The Great Rift Valley is a name given to the continuous geographic trench, approximately 6,000 km in length, which runs from Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley in Asia to Mozambique in south eastern Africa.

A. afarensis is believed to have lived 3,700,000-3,000,000 years ago, as characterised by fossils like “Lucy” from Ethiopia.

According to the research findings published recently in the Journal of Human Evolution, stable isotope analysis revealed that the Kantis region was humid, but had a plain-like environment with fewer trees compared to other sites in the Great Rift Valley where A. afaransis fossils had previously appeared.

“The hominid must have discovered suitable habitats in the Kenyan highlands. It seems that A. afaransis was good at adapting to varying environments,” Nakatsukasa noted.

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