Ethiopia is the only country in the world that is endowed with substantial fossil remains that span the entire time-line of human evolution.

The findings range from the 10 million year old Chororapithecus, a possible ape relative of humans, to Homo Sapiens Idaltu the 160,000 year old earliest modern human fossil. Also the world famous Lucy, in Amharic Dinkinesh – meaning you are wonderful, is unearthed in this part of the world.

The newer discoveries extend Ethiopia’s fossil record further back in time and include the 4.4 mil years old Ardipithecus Kadaba and Selam, the 3.3 million years old most complete skeleton of the first 3 years old female child.

The ancestral roots of all modern humans can largely be traced to people who lived in Africa 100,000 to 300,000 years ago. Belonging to this family, Homosapiens Idaltu existed 160,000 years ago found in Afar – Ethiopia in a village called Horto.

Compared to ourselves its face and jaws are larger and the bone above its eyes projects forward but its brain was as large as ours and the skull is domed with a high forehead.

The name ‘Idaltu’ means Elder in the Afar language.


How the fossils were formed

Most Ethiopian fossil sites are located in the Rift Valley which it is linked to the way the African Rift was formed. This happened millions of years ago when the Red Sea opened a huge breakage and the earth’s crust first fractured in East Africa.

A rift was formed by the collapse of the earth’s crust, along with many volcanic activities. At the same time lakes and rivers were created with in the rift system.

Within these rivers and lakes, sediments and bones of dead animals were being deposited which subsequently become fossils. They are now unearthed because of the erosion in the whole Ethiopian rift from the Afar territory up to Lake Turkana.

What are the main Ethiopian paleontological fields?

The lower Omo Valley yielded fossils first in 1902. Since then an exceptionally huge collection of fossils has been recovered (more than 40,000 fossils) by international team that worked there especially between 1967 – 1976.

The quality of work has been carried out in the Omo region is a world reference for scientists. Unesco has listed these collections and Omo area as a world heritage site.

The Awash Valley has been registered as a World Heritage Site for the fossils discovered there, dating 5.8 million to 100,000 years old. The oldest hominid remains found there thus far were in a desolate middle course of the Awash Valley.

The Hadar area is located in Afar region. It is famous because Lucy, Dinknesh was discovered there in 1974. Among many other fossils of what was at that time the most ancient known pre human species. Along with these, a rich vertebrate fauna was unearthed, thus forming a collection of very high quality.

Aramis is a paleontological site located in the Middle Awash valley south of Hadar. It has revealed the most ancient pre human species known to date, Ardipithecus Ramidus.

Nevertheless, Aramis is not the only site in the middle Awash valley that yielded fossil remains. There are many other sites in the valley and they cover a time period from more than 5 million to 100,000 years.

Melka Kunture (in the upper course of the Awash Valley), is a Lower Paleolithic site where the continuous evolution of stone utensils can be seen, from 1.7 million to 150,000 years old. Some of them are in the Addis Ababa National Museum.

The site, one of the most important in Ethiopia, extends to several miles along the length and width of the upper course of the Awash River.

What are the main discoveries?

Chororapithecus Abyssinicus 12 – 7 million years ago

This is the time period when human and apes must have diverged and is therefore crucial to the understanding of when and how the human line and relatives emerged.

The human and African ape fossil record between 12 – 7 million years ago in scarce and only Chororapithecus and a new fragmentary jaws and teeth similar material are known from Kenya.

Although more material is needed, chororapiticus shares with the modern gorilla not only the large size, but also some key features that suggest it is a primitive relative of the modern gorilla.

Ardipithecus category

Ardipithecus Kadabba: 5.6 – 5.7 million years old. Ardi meaning ground and Kadaba a big father or basal family member.

Ardipithecus Ramidus: 4.4 – 4.5 million years old. Ramid meaning roots thus Ardipiticus ramidus root of the ground ape.

The Australopithecus category

It is thought that Australopithecus lived in the east, south east, and center of Africa approximately 4 to 1 million year ago. They had ape-like bodies and small brains, but they were bipeds.

So far at least seven species of its genus have been identified, the oldest living about 4.4 to 2million years ago, are built smaller, while those living between 2.9 to 1 million years ago are more robust.

Australopithecus Anamensis, 4.2 – 4.5 million years old.
Australopithecus  Afarensis 3.6 – 3.0 million years old.
Australopithecus Aethiopicus 2.7 – 2.3 million years old.
Australopithecus Garhi 2.5 million years.

The Homo Category

Scientists believe that Australopithecus evolved towards the genus Homo, a step occurring between 2.7 to 2.3 million years ago.
Homo Habilis 2.4 – 1.8 million years.
Homo Erectus, Australopithecus Boisei, 1.4 million years old.
Late Homo Erectus, 1.7 – 1 million years old.
Homo Rhodesiensis, 0.6 – 0.2 million years old.
Homo Sapiens, 0.2 million years to present.

Lucy:- The beginning of man kind
Lucy is the treasure of the National Museum of Ethiopia, where a replica of her skeleton is on display. This skeleton is the most complete human ancestor yet discovered any where in the world.

Found in Afar depression in 1974 by Donald C. Johnson, this adult female skeleton was nicknamed ‘Lucy’ after the popular Beatles’s song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”. But the Ethiopians prefer to call her “Dinknesh” meaning ‘You are Wonderful’.

The skeleton of Lucy is about 3.2 mil years old her brain was no larger than Chimpanzees. But she walked on two legs a character placing her in the family tree of many. She was of small stature standing 3.5 feet tall. Her scientific name is  Australopithecus  Afarensis.

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