The face of the oldest early human ancestor has been revealed by the discovery in Ethiopia of a 3.8 million-year-old near-complete skull.
The uncovered fossil, which provides insight into a pivotal period for human evolution, belongs to the species Australopithecus anamensis, which first appeared roughly 4.2 million years ago.
It is considered the direct ancestor of Australopithecus afarensis, the species of the famous partial skeleton nicknamed Lucy, unearthed in 1974.
The skull, named MRD, was found in 2016 about 35 miles from the site in the Afar region of Ethiopia where Lucy was found.
MRD’s age indicates that its species co-existed for approximately 100,000 years with Lucy's, challenging previous notions that one had evolved into the other with no overlap.
A partial reconstruction of MRD’s face was published by the researchers in the journal, Nature.
Yohannes Haile-Selassie a paleoanthropologist at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and leader of the research, said: ''This is the first specimen that gives us some idea terms of what the face of species known as Australopithecus anamensis looked like about 3.8 million years ago.
“Previously, we had no idea because we only know about the species based on isolated teeth and some jaw fragments and we never had a chance to actually reconstruct the face and have a look at what it looks like.”
The skull is critical for learning about a species' diet, brain size and facial appearance. Until now, the earliest Australopithecus anamensis fossils were 3.9 million years old.