Researchers have announced the naming of a new species of human ancestor, Homo bodoensis.
This species lived in Africa, about half a million years ago – during the Middle Pleistocene – and was the direct ancestor of modern humans, experts say.
They say the period is important because it saw the rise of our own species (Homo sapiens) in Africa, our closest relatives, and the Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) in Europe.
However, paleoanthropologists call this time “the muddle in the middle” because human evolution during this age is poorly understood.
The announcement of Homo bodoensis hopes to bring some clarity to this chapter in human evolution.
Lead author, Dr Mirjana Roksandic, of the University of Winnipeg, Canada, said: “Talking about human evolution during this time period became impossible due to the lack of proper terminology that acknowledges human geographic variation.”
The name bodoensis comes from a skull found in Bodo D’ar, Ethiopia, and the new species is understood to be a direct human ancestor.
Under the new classification, H. bodoensis will describe most Middle Pleistocene humans from Africa and some from southeast Europe, while many from the latter continent will be reclassified as Neanderthals.
According to one of the co-authors, Christopher Bae, department of anthropology, University of Hawai’i at Manoa, the introduction of H. bodoensis is aimed at “cutting the Gordian knot and allowing us to communicate clearly about this important period in human evolution”.
Dr Roksandic concluded: “Naming a new species is a big deal, as the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature allows name changes only under very strictly defined rules.
“We are confident that this one will stick around for a long time, a new taxon name will live only if other researchers use it.”
The findings are published in Evolutionary Anthropology Issues News and Reviews.