A team of researchers looking for fossils made an incredible discovery in the Afar region of Ethiopia: Lodged in a hillside was the lower jawbone and five teeth of an individual that likely lived 2.8 million years ago, the oldest remains ever found belonging to the genus Homo.
The area is now dry, but researchers believe it was once filled with rivers, wetlands, and grass. The jawbone is 400,000 years older than the fossils that once held the record as the earliest known remains from the Homo lineage, The Guardian reports. "This is the first inkling we have of that transition to modern behavior," Brian Villmoare at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas told The Guardian. "We were no longer solving problems with our bodies but with our brains."
The jawbone was found in January 2013 by Chalachew Seyoum, an Ethiopian member of the team studying at Arizona State University. The researchers made a recent return to the site, but are not allowed to say what — if anything — they discovered on this trip. Villmoare said that while the jawbone could belong to Homo habilis, it is more likely from a new species that lived before Homo habilis. The team says this will remain a mystery until more remains are found.