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Jawbone Fossil Fills Big Gap In Human Evolution, Scientists Say

This 2013 photo shows the LD 350-1 mandible just steps from where it was found in Ethiopia. The jawbone fragment is the oldest known fossil from an evolutionary tree branch that eventually led to modern humans, scientists say.

A partial jawbone found in Ethiopia is the oldest human-related fossil, scientists say.

NPR's Christopher Joyce, who is reporting on the story, tells our Newscast unit that the discovery fills in an important gap in human evolution. He says:

"The fossil consists of a partial jawbone and several teeth. It dates back to about 2.8 million years ago.

"The team says the fossil appears to belong to an individual from the beginning of the ancestral line that led to humans. That would make it the earliest known Homo — the human genus.

"Writing in the journal Science, the researchers say the jaw and teeth are different from more ancient human ancestors, known as Australopithecus. Those ape-like creatures had broad teeth for grinding and deep jaws.

"The new fossil has smaller teeth and a more rounded jaw. It's 400,000 years older than the previous record for human-related fossils. The scientists say it comes from the earliest period of human evolution."

The fossil was discovered two years ago at a location in Ethiopia close to where Lucy — the skeleton of the sort of half-ape, half-human that lived a couple million years before humans evolved — was discovered.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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