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Background of discovery
3.5 to 3.2 million years old
Important fossil discoveries
Fragments of a skull (KNM-WT 40000) and teeth were found in 1999 and reconstructed. Another specimen tentatively classified into this species is a partial left upper jaw (KNM-WT 38350) discovered in 1998.
What the name means
The genus name Kenyanthropus means ‘man from Kenya’, whereas the species name platyops is derived from the Greek words ‘platus’ meaning ‘flat’ and ‘opsis’ meaning face. Hence the name means ‘the flat-faced man from Kenya’.
Western Lake Turkana, Kenya
Relationships with other species
The finders believe the skull shares similarities with a later species, Homo rudolfensis, including the relatively flat face and the lack of a depression behind the brow ridge – indicating it may be an ancestor of Homo. If this analysis is correct then it challenges the place of Australopithecus as a direct human ancestor. However, the acceptance of this new species is unresolved. Many experts argue that this skull was extremely distorted and has been badly reconstructed. They claim it is a Kenyan variant of Australopithecus afarensis.
More material needs to be recovered, especially a skull with no apparent distortion, in order to resolve this debate.
Key physical features
- similar in size to A.afarensis (approx 430 cc)
Body size and shape
- lack of skeletal remains makes it difficult to ascertain body size
- few remains found but a toe bones shows features that suggest bipedalism
Jaws and Teeth
- small molar teeth and small canine roots
- cheek teeth with thick enamel comparable to that of A.anamensis and A.afarensis
- relatively large face
- flat face across the nasal region although still some facial prognathism
- small brain case
- lack of a depression behind the brow ridge
There is no evidence for any specific cultural attributes but this probably behaved in a manner similar to other hominins living at the same time, such as Australopithecus afarensis. It may have used simple tools that included sticks and other non-durable plant materials found in the immediate surroundings. Stones may also have been used as tools, but there is no evidence that stones were shaped or modified in any way. It seems likely that they lived in small social groups containing a mixture of males and females, children and adults.
Environment and diet
This species lived in an environment that was a mixture of grassland and wooded habitat, comparable to the similarly-dated sites of Laetoli, Tanzania, and Hadar, Ethiopia (where Australopithecus afarensis was found).It is presumed that the species was herbivorous, but the exact types of plants it ate is uncertain.