WASHINGTON — Scientists may have found the great, great, great, etc., grandfather of the famous fossil Lucy.
A new partial skeleton of an early hominid known as Australopithecus afarensis was discovered in a mud flat of the Afar region of Ethiopia.
Dated about 3.6 million years ago, the find is about 400,000 years older than the famous Lucy, which was among the earliest upright walking hominids, researchers report in Tuesday's edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The bones indicate this ancestor also walked upright, but was considerably larger than Lucy, who stood about 3.5 feet tall.
Because of his size – more than 5 feet tall – the new specimen has been named "Kadanuumuu," which means "big man" in the Afar language.
"This individual was fully bipedal and had the ability to walk almost like modern humans," said lead author Yohannes Haile-Selassie of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
"As a result of this discovery, we can now confidently say that Lucy and her relatives were almost as proficient as we are walking on two legs, and that the elongation of our legs came earlier in our evolution than previously thought," he said in a statement.
The find was made by an international team led by Owen Lovejoy of Kent State University and the Cleveland museum and Haile-Selassie. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Leakey Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the National Geographic Society.