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"Foot Find" -- The Discovery Files

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Researchers from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and Case Western Reserve University found a fossil which indicates that between three and four million years ago, there were at least two pre-human species living on the Earth.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Fossil Foot Find.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

This one takes us to the afar region of Ethiopia in Eastern Africa, the area where fossils of perhaps our best-known human ancestor, 'Lucy' were found. Now researchers at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and Case Western Reserve have announced a new fossil discovery--a partial foot--that says Lucy and company weren't alone. The fossil is the first evidence that at least two pre-human species--with different modes of locomotion--lived in Eastern Africa at the same time--between three and four million years ago.

The fossil foot contains a big toe that--like our thumbs--could move side to side for grasping, not very helpful for walking, but excellent for climbing. So while Lucy was walking around on land, this other hominin species was likely swinging in the trees. Nearby fossils and analysis of the sediments show the area to have had open woodlands of trees and bushes.

The fossil elements represent bones never before seen. They've not yet been assigned to a specific species, because species are classified by skulls, not feet.

Set another place at the table, Lucy--looks like they found a close cousin living in the family tree.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's national science foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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