Human Evolution @ UCL


Middle Pliocene hominin evolution was very complex as demonstrated by the Australopithecus afarensis fossil record

7 June 2016

Recent discoveries of multiple middle Pliocene hominins have raised the possibility that early hominins were as speciose as later hominins.

Reconstruction of A.L. 288-1 at the Goteborg Naturhistoriska Museum. Photographer: Charles T. G. Clarke However, debates continue to arise around the validity of most of these new taxa, largely based on poor preservation of holotype specimens, small sample size, or the lack of evidence for ecological diversity. A closer look at the currently available fossil evidence from Ethiopia, Kenya, and Chad indicate that Australopithecus afarensis was not the only hominin species during the middle Pliocene, and that there were other species clearly distinguishable from it by their locomotor adaptation and diet. Although there is no doubt that the presence of multiple species during the middle Pliocene opens new windows into our evolutionary past, it also complicates our understanding of early hominin taxonomy and phylogenetic relationships.

The Pliocene hominin diversity conundrum: Do more fossils mean less clarity?

Yohannes Haile-Selassie, Stephanie M. Melillo, Denise F. Su

DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1521266113