Fossil Provides Evolutionary Insight

A partial foot fossil discovered in Ethiopia proves Lucy wasn’t the only ancient human ancestor in the neighborhood 3.4 million years ago.

The partial foot discovered by an international team of researchers, including School of Medicine scientists, belongs to an unknown species of hominid that shared its home with Lucy’s species.

While Lucy’s species had already evolved for life on the ground, the Burtele foot —named for the area in which it was found—still had an opposable big toe, which means the new species could walk short distances, but likely still spent considerable time in the trees, according to co-author Bruce Latimer, PhD, professor in the departments of orthodontics and anatomy.

The fossil provides the first evidence that there were at least two human ancestors with different means of moving around living at the same time in the same place.