All posts by Archaeology World Team

Charred Leftovers Show What Food Australians Ate 65,000 Years Ago

Charred Leftovers Show What Food Australians Ate 65,000 Years Ago

Contaminants of different plant food aged between 65,000 and 53,000 years ago have been discovered in North Australia by researchers.

The remains, which are preserved as pieces of charcoal, were found in debris from ancient cooking hearths at Madjedbebe—a sandstone rock shelter thought to be Australia’s oldest Aboriginal site.

According to a study published in the journal Nature Communications, the scientists, with the help of local Aboriginal elders, were able to identify 10 different plant foods by analyzing the preserved charcoal. These included various fruits and nuts, palm stems and “roots and tubers.”

“We were able to recover small pieces of charcoal from the earliest layer occupation at Madjedbebe. These pieces represent the rubbish from people cooking and sharing meals at Madjedbebe, 65,000 to 53,000 years ago,” Anna Florin, an author of the study from the University of Queensland, Australia, told BBC. “They only preserved through chance.

These specific food scraps came into contact with ancient cooking fires and turned into charcoal. They represent the earliest evidence for the use of plant foods outside of Africa and the Middle East.”

“Identification is done by comparison of the ancient remains to modern reference material under very high-powered microscopy,” Florin said. “The modern reference material was collected on Mirarr Country in western Arnhem Land. Elders and co-authors May Nango and Djaykuk Djandjomerr identified the plants that might have been used in this area 65,000 years ago.”

The authors say the findings demonstrate that Australia’s earliest known human population consumed a range of plant foods, including those that required processing.

“By working with Nango and Djandjomerr, the team was also able to explain how the plants were likely used at Madjedbebe,” Florin said in a statement. “Many of these plant foods required processing to make them edible and this evidence was complemented by grinding stone technology also used during the early occupation at the site.”

“The First Australians had a great deal of botanical knowledge and this was one of the things that allowed them to adapt to and thrive in this new environment,” she said. “They were able to guarantee access to carbohydrates, fat and even protein by applying this knowledge, as well as technological innovation and labor, to the gathering and processing of Australian plant foods.”

The researchers say that the latest finds predate existing evidence for such practices in Sahul—an ancient continent which once comprised of Australia, New Guinea, Tasmania and the Indonesian island of Seram—by more than 20,000 years.

Some experts have suggested that the early movements of humans through the islands of Southeast Asia into Sahul were facilitated by access to high-calorie foods.

The Madjedbebe sandstone rock shelter.

“These results suggest that dietary breadth underpinned the success of early modern human populations in this region, with the expenditure of labor on the processing of plants guaranteeing reliable access to nutrients in new environments,” the authors wrote in the study.

“It was once thought that humans moved quickly and easily through Island Southeast Asia, eating a buffet of easy-to-catch marine resources,” Florin told BBC. “However, as this and other archaeological evidence is beginning to show, human populations in this region were deploying skillful foraging strategies to survive and move into new environments. The voyage of early modern humans through Island Southeast Asia and into Australia and New Guinea is one of the great journeys in human history.”

The ancient plant foods are just one of several significant discoveries that have been made at Madjedbebe. For example, the site contains evidence of the earliest grindstone technology outside of Africa and the first recorded use of reflective pigments anywhere in the world. Furthermore, the site is significant because it has pushed back the known timing of human movement into Australia.

“Madjedbebe continues to provide startling insights into the complex and dynamic lifestyle of the earliest Australian Aboriginal people,” Chris Clarkson, another author of the study from the University of Queensland, said in a statement.

Discover the Breathtaking Opal Gemstone Called ‘Rainbow Tree’ from Australia

Discover the Breathtaking Opal Gemstone Called ‘Rainbow Tree’ from Australia

Opal stones are always incredible to see, and this one is no exception.

This is a Boulder Opal that’s known as the ‘Rainbow Tree’ From Queensland, Australia and it’s pretty amazing. It’s so astounding to witness this natural piece of crystal, created from the Earth.

Most crystals, like this opal, are formed by the molecules in a liquid that hardens as they cool down. Gemstones like diamonds, rubies, and emeralds, are made from cooling magma that cools down slowly and then hardens.

We all remember that diamonds are highly sought after and this is mainly because they are harder to source than other more common stones.

Opal stones are also quite pricey, although, not as pricey as the rare types of diamonds out there. The price of an opal depends on what type of opal it is, as well as the quality and the size.

White opal isn’t going to be too expensive, but a darker opal will be more expensive since it can be laborious to find. Opal is mainly found in Australia in Lightning Ridge as well as in Coober Pedy, Mintabie, and Andamooka.

This beautiful crystal is made up of silicon dioxide and water mixed together, and as the water flows over sandstone, it ends up gathering silica and broken down fossils.

Then, the water evaporates and what’s left is pure silica which creates opal. Opal ends up having a very kaleidoscopic array of different colors and can look at the northern lights or even like the ocean in some cases.

Opal can be used in jewelry and some of the finest pieces are used in rings, earrings, pendants and more.

These beautiful iridescent stones are also used in natural therapies. The energy of opal stones can help to create harmony and balance in our own personal energy systems and meridians.

In massage therapy or reiki, crystals like opal can be placed around or on a person to enhance and balance their energy. People also collect crystals like opal to add to their home environments to bring the energy of the stone into their home.

Opal has been said to have an energy that can help those who are dealing with infections, fevers, PMS, and birthing. By holding the crystal, you may feel these subtle energies as you hold it, which can help you draw on your own strength.

Opal has also been appreciated as it increases creativity and self-expression, as well as implementing self-worth and self-esteem. Opal is also the birthstone for October and can be given as a gift to celebrate the 14th year of marriage. The word opal comes from the Sanskrit word Upala, which means precious stone.

Also, the Greeks called it Opallios, which means “to perceive a change of colour” and as you can tell by looking at it, opal does change colour in the light which is one of it’s best features and which is why people love it so much.

Holding opal stones up to the sun or light and moving the stone back and forth with unfold so many brilliant colours that will amaze you. Traditionally Greek people thought that opal would give a person foresight and better insight.

During the medieval ages, women with lighter hair would wear opal to prevent themselves from losing their hair and colour. Many people say that they sleep better when they have a crystal such as an opal under their pillow and that they have fewer bad dreams.

It never hurts to try it out, even on yourself.

If you don’t already have a love for crystals, you may just develop one and desire to start collecting some crystals of your own to treasure and enjoy.

A Stunning Neanderthal Skeleton Was Just Unearthed at a Famous Burial Site

A Stunning Neanderthal Skeleton Was Just Unearthed at a Famous Burial Site

A skeleton uncovered in an Iraqi cave already famous for fossils of these extinct cousins of Neanderthal species is providing fresh evidence that they buried their dead – and intriguing clues that flowers may have been used in such rituals.

The remains, consisting of a crushed but complete skull, upper thorax, and both hands, were recently unearthed at the Shanidar Cave site 500 miles north of Baghdad.

Scientists said on Tuesday they had discovered in Shanidar Cave in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq the well-preserved upper body skeleton of an adult Neanderthal who lived about 70,000 years ago. The individual – dubbed Shanidar Z – was perhaps in his or her 40s or 50s. The sex was undetermined.

On Tuesday scientists discovered in Shanidar Cave in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq the well-preserved upper body skeleton of an adult Neanderthal who lived about 70,000 years ago. The individual – dubbed Shanidar Z – was perhaps in his or her 40s or 50s. The sex was undetermined.

The cave was a pivotal site for mid-20th century archaeology. Remains of 10 Neanderthals – seven adults and three infants – were dug up there six decades ago, offering insight into the physical characteristics, behavior, and diet of this species.

Clusters of flower pollen were found at that time in soil samples associated with one of the skeletons, a discovery that prompted scientists involved in that research to propose that Neanderthals buried their dead and conducted funerary rites with flowers.

That hypothesis helped change the prevailing popular view at the time of Neanderthals as dimwitted and brutish, a notion increasingly discredited by new discoveries. Critics cast doubt, however, on the “flower burial,” arguing the pollen could have been modern contamination from people working and living in the cave or from burrowing rodents or insects.

But Shanidar Z’s bones, which appear to be the top half of a partial skeleton unearthed in 1960, were found in sediment containing ancient pollen and other mineralized plant remains, reviving the possibility of flower burials. The material is being examined to determine its age and the plants represented.

“So from initially being a skeptic based on many of the other published critiques of the flower-burial evidence, I am coming round to think this scenario is much more plausible and I am excited to see the full results of our new analyses,” said University of Cambridge osteologist and paleoanthropologist Emma Pomeroy, lead author of the research published in the journal Antiquity.

Scholars have argued for years about whether Neanderthals buried their dead with mortuary rituals much as our species does, part of the larger debate over their levels of cognitive sophistication.

Shanidar Z’s bones are believed to be the top half of a partial skeleton unearthed in 1960.

“What is key here is the intentionality behind the burial. You might bury a body for purely practical reasons, in order to avoid attracting dangerous scavengers and/or to reduce the smell. But when this goes beyond practical elements it is important because that indicates more complex, symbolic and abstract thinking, compassion and care for the dead, and perhaps feelings of mourning and loss,” Pomeroy said.

Shanidar Z appears to have been deliberately placed in an intentionally dug depression cut into the subsoil and part of a cluster of four individuals.

“Whether the Neanderthal group of dead placed around 70,000 years ago in the cave were a few years, a few decades or centuries – or even millennia – apart, it seems clear that Shanidar was a special place, with bodies being placed just in one part of a large cave,” said University of Cambridge archeologist and study co-author Graeme Barker.

Neanderthals – more robustly built than Homo sapiens and with larger brows – inhabited Eurasia from the Atlantic coast to the Ural Mountains from about 400,000 years ago until a bit after 40,000 years ago, disappearing after our species established itself in the region.

The two species interbred, with modern non-African human populations bearing residual Neanderthal DNA.

Shanidar Z was found to be reclining on his or her back, with the left arm tucked under the head and the right arm bent and sticking out to the side.

Bronze Age Fashion – The “Egtved Girl” Showed Remarkably Modern Taste

Bronze Age Fashion – The “Egtved Girl” Showed Remarkably Modern Taste

The well-preserved Egtved Girl was one of the most well-known burials of the Danish Bronze Age found in 1921. Her woolen clothing, hair, and nails were perfectly preserved, but all her bones were missing.

Scientists who studied the remains of the ancient teenager and discovered surprisingly that the girl of Egtved was not from Denmark and had traveled great distances before her death.

A study published in the journal Nature details the results of modern tests done by scientists. Strontium isotope analysis on Egtved Girl’s molar, hair, and fingernails, combined with examination of her distinctive woolen clothing, have revealed she was born and raised hundreds of miles from her burial site in Egtved, in modern Denmark. Findings show she likely came from The Black Forest of southwest Germany, and she traveled between the two locations via ship frequently in the last two years of her life.

According to LiveScience, the Egtved Girl’s oak coffin was uncovered in 1921 from a Bronze Age archaeological site near Egtved, Denmark. The grave was found within a burial mound of dense peat bog and has been dated to 1370 BC.  

Inside the coffin, the 16 to the 18-year-old girl was buried. She is believed to have been of high status. The teenager had been laid on an ox hide and covered by a rough woolen blanket.

The clothing is worn by the Bronze Age teenager, Egtved Girl.

The contours of where her dead body had lain are still visible, pressed into the ox hide beneath her. She was of slim build, with mid-length blonde hair, and her clothing—a short string skirt and small, midriff-baring, sleeved top—caused a sensation when revealed in the 20s. Around her waist, she had worn a large, spiked bronze disc decorated with spirals. Even now people recreate the stylish Bronze Age fashion.

Other grave goods included bronze pins, a sewing awl, and a hair net. Local flowers decorated the top of the coffin (indicating a summertime burial), as did a small bucket of beer made of honey, wheat, and cowberries.

The Egtved Girl’s coffin during excavations in 1921.

Another body was found with Egtved Girl in her coffin. Ashes and bones comprised the cremated remains of a small child recovered near Egtved Girl’s head. The identity of the child, who was about five or six years old when he or she died, is not known. No DNA could be recovered from either set of remains, so their relationship is a mystery.

Scientists found that the soil composition of the grave worked as a microclimate, preserving some items and destroying others. Rainwater seeped into the hollowed-out, oak-trunk coffin, but it was starved of oxygen. These conditions decayed the bones completely away but left behind excellently-preserved fingernails, hair, scalp, a small part of her brain, and clothing.

Senior researcher Karin Margarita Frei, from the National Museum of Denmark and Centre for Textile Research at the University of Copenhagen analyzed the Bronze Age girls’ remains, according to Science Daily.

Hair and clothing found in the coffin of the Egtved Girl.

Analysis of the high-status teenager’s remains, as well as the cremated bones of the young child, showed that the pair had spent much of their lives in a distant land, thought to be Schwarzwald (the Black Forest) in Germany.

“If we consider the last two years of the girl’s life, we can see that, 13 to 15 months before her death, she stayed in a place with a strontium isotope signature very similar to the one that characterizes the area where she was born. Then she moved to an area that may well have been Jutland.

After a period of c. 9 to 10 months there, she went back to the region she originally came from and stayed there for four to six months before she traveled to her final resting place, Egtved. Neither her hair nor her thumb nail contains strontium isotopic signatures which indicates that she returned to Scandinavia until very shortly before she died.

As an area’s strontium isotopic signature is only detectable in human hair and nails after a month, she must have come to ‘Denmark’ and ‘Egtved’ about a month before she passed away,” Karin Margarita Frei told Science Daily.

The exceptionally-preserved hair of the Egtved Girl. Her burial dates to 1370 BC.

This movement makes sense to researchers. Kristian Kristiansen of the University of Gothenburg told Science Daily, “In Bronze Age Western Europe, Southern Germany and Denmark were the two dominant centers of power, very similar to kingdoms. We find many direct connections between the two in the archaeological evidence, and my guess is that the Egtved Girl was a Southern German girl who was given in marriage to a man in Jutland so as to forge an alliance between two powerful families.”

The bronze belt disc found on Egtved Girl may have come to the area via the busy trade routes of the day.  The spiral decorations are said to be related to a Nordic solar cult, and the bronze is thought to have originated somewhere in the Alps. Further, the wool that made up her clothing came from sheep outside of Denmark. The ‘fashionable’ Egtved Girl and her mysterious tiny companion have captivated people since their discovery in 1921. Modern research brings the life and death of the prehistoric girl to light in amazing detail and gives us a better understanding of early European people.

But she is not the only teenage girl found in Denmark that has created a stir in the last few years. In 2017, it was announced that another famous Bronze Age burial of a teenage girl, this time found in Jutland, Denmark was also a traveler from faraway lands. Strontium analysis of the 16- to 18-year-old Skrydstrup woman suggests she originally came from Germany, the Czech Republic, France, or Sweden.

As archaeologist Karin Frei of the National Museum of Denmark told ScienceNordic, “We can’t say with 100 percent certainty where she [the Skrydstrup woman] came from, and we may never be able to, but she definitely wasn’t Danish. It gives us so many new perspectives. Now we know that Egtved Girl was not an isolated case.” These studies show that early European mobility was more dynamic than previously believed; Bronze Age people were trading and traveling long distances, quickly.

Study Suggests New Dates for Spread of Farming Across Eurasia

Study Suggests New Dates for Spread of Farming Across Eurasia

Many people are familiar with the ancient Silk Road but fewer know that the exchange of items, ideas, technology, and human genes through the mountain valleys of Central Asia started almost three millennia before organized trade networks formed.

These pre-Silk Road exchange routes played an important role in shaping human cultural developments across Europe and Asia and facilitated the dispersal of technologies such as horse breeding and metal smelting into East Asia.

One of the most impactful effects of this process of ancient cultural dispersal was the westward spread of northeast Asian crops and the eastward spread of southwest Asian crops. However, until the past few years, a lack of archaeobotanical studies in Central Asia left a dearth of data relating to when and how this process occurred.

Dr. Xinying Zhou and his team from the IVPP in Beijing excavated the Tangtian Cave site during the summer of 2016

This new study, led by scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, provides details of recently recovered ancient grains from the far northern regions of Inner Asia.

Radiocarbon dating shows that the grains include the oldest examples of wheat and barley ever recovered this far north in Asia, pushing back the dates for early farming in the region by at least a millennium.

These are also the earliest domesticated plants reported from the northern half of Central Asia, the core of the ancient exchange corridor. This study pulls together sedimentary pollen and ancient wood charcoal data with archaeobotanical remains from the Tiangtian archaeological site in the Chinese Altai Mountains to reveal how humans cultivated crops at such northern latitudes.

This study illustrates how adaptable ancient crop plants were to new ecological constraints and how human cultural practices allowed people to survive in unpredictable environments.

The ancient relatives of wheat and barley plants evolved to grow in the warm and dry climate of the eastern Mediterranean and southwest Asia. However, this study illustrates that ancient peoples were cultivating these grasses over five and a half thousand kilometers to the northeast of where they originally evolved to grow.

In this study, Dr. Xinying Zhou and his colleagues integrate paleoenvironmental proxies to determine how extreme the ecology was around the archaeological cave site of Tangtian more than five millennia ago, at the time of its occupation.

The site is located high in the Altai Mountains on a cold, dry landscape today; however, the study shows that the ecological setting around the site was slightly warmer and more humid at the time when people lived in and around this cave.

The slightly warmer regional conditions were likely the result of shifting air masses bringing warmer, wetter air from the south. In addition to early farmers using a specific regional climate pocket to grow crops in North Asia, the analysis showed that the crops they grew evolved to survive in such northern regions.

The results of this study provide scholars with evidence for when certain evolutionary changes in these grasses occurred, including changes in the programed reliance of day length, which signals to the plant when to flower, and greater resistance to cold climates.

The ancient dispersal of crops across Inner Asia has received a lot of attention from biologists and archaeologists in recent years; as Dr. Spengler, one of the study’s lead authors, discusses in his recent book Fruit from the Sands, these ancient exchange routes shaped the course of human history.

The mingling of crops originating from opposite ends of Asia resulted in the crop-rotation cycles that fueled demographic growth and led to the imperial formation. East Asian millets would become one of the most important crops in ancient Europe and wheat would become one of the most important crops in East Asia by the Han Dynasty. While the long tradition of rice cultivation in East Asia made rice a staple of the Asian kitchen, Chinese cuisine would be unrecognizable without wheat-based food items like steamed buns, dumplings, and noodles.

The discovery that these plants dispersed across Eurasia earlier than previously understood will have lasting impacts on the study of cultivation and labor practices in ancient Eurasia, as well as the history of cultural contact and shifts in culinary systems throughout time.

These new discoveries provide a reason to question these views and seem to suggest that mixed small-scale human populations made major contributions to world history through migration and cultural and technological exchange.

“This study not only presents the earliest dates for domesticated grains in far North Asia,” says Professor Xiaoqiang Li, director of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, “it represents the earliest beginning of a trans-Eurasian exchange that would eventually develop into the great Silk Road”.

Dr. Xinying Zhou, who headed the study and directs a research team at the IVPP in Beijing, emphasizes that “this discovery is a testament to human ingenuity and the amazing coevolutionary bond between people and the plants that they maintain in their cultivated fields.”

Mexico earthquake reveals lost ancient temple inside the pyramid

Mexico earthquake reveals lost ancient temple inside the pyramid

The remains of the great pyramid of Teopanzolco have long offered visitors to the southern Mexican site unique insights into the structure’s inner workings while simultaneously conjuring visions of the intricate temples that once arose from its series of bases and platforms.

Today, remnants of twin temples—to the north, a blue one dedicated to the Aztec rain god Tláloc, and to the south, a red one dedicated to the Aztec sun god Huitzilopochtli—still top the pyramid’s central platform, joined by parallel staircases.

Although archaeologists have intermittently excavated the Teopanzolco site since 1921, it took a deadly 7.1 magnitude earthquake to unveil one of the pyramid’s oldest secrets: an ancient shrine buried about six-and-a-half feet below Tláloc’s main temple.

According to BBC News, scientists from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) discovered the temple while scanning the pyramid for structural issues.

The earthquake, which struck central Mexico on September 19, 2017, caused “considerable rearrangement of the core of [the pyramid’s] structure,” INAH archaeologist Bárbara Konieczna said in a statement.

For local news outlet El Sol de Cuernavaca, Susana Paredes reports that some of the most serious damage occurred in the upper part of the pyramid, where the twin temples are located; the floors of both structures had sunk and bent, leaving them dangerously destabilized.

The discovery was made at the Teopanzolco pyramid in Cuernavaca

To begin recovery efforts, archaeologists created wells in the temple dedicated to Tláloc and a corridor separating the two temples.

During this work, the team unearthed a previously unknown structure, which featured a similar architectural style—double facade walls covered in elongated stones and stucco-encased slabs—to that of the existing Tláloc temple.

In the statement, Konieczna notes that the temple would have measured about 20 feet by 13 feet and was probably dedicated to Tláloc, just like the one located above it. It’s possible that a matching temple dedicated to Huitzilopochtli lies on the opposite side of the newly located one, buried by later civilizations’ architectural projects.

The humidity of the Morelos region had damaged the temple’s stucco walls, according to a press release, but archaeologists were able to save some of the remaining fragments.

Below the shrine’s stuccoed floors, they found a base of tezontle, a reddish volcanic rock widely used in Mexican construction, and a thin layer of charcoal. Within the structure, archaeologists also discovered shards of ceramic and an incense burner.

Paredes of El Sol de Cuernavaca notes that the temple likely dates to about 1150 to 1200 C.E. Comparatively, the main structure of the pyramid dates to between 1200 and 1521, indicating that later populations built over the older structures.

The Teopanzolco site originated with the Tlahuica civilization, which founded the city of Cuauhnahuac (today is known as Cuernavaca) around 1200, as G. William Hood chronicles for Viva Cuernavaca. During the 15th century, the Tlahuica people were conquered by the Aztecs, who, in turn, took over the construction of the Teopanzolco pyramids.

Following the 16th-century arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, the project was abandoned, leaving the site untouched until its 1910 rediscovery by Emiliano Zapata’s revolutionary forces.

Family discover ‘perfectly preserved’ Roman tomb hidden beneath a home in southern Spain

Family discover ‘perfectly preserved’ Roman tomb hidden beneath a home in southern Spain

In Carmona, a city near Seville, Andalusia, a family made a remarkable discovery during building work on their houses.

They were stunned when they knocked a wall down the patio of their townhouse to find a small arched opening that led to an underground to a funerary chamber dating from the first century AD.

They found eight niches in the room, six of whom were occupied by funerary urns or chests containing what is thought to be human remains dating back more than 2,000 years.

An archaeological team dispatched by the town council to examine the site described it as “perfectly preserved” and said it was the most important discovery made in the area for decades.

Juan Manuel Román, an archaeologist employed by the council, emphasized “the outstanding importance of the discovery”.

“It’s been 35 years since a tomb was found in such a magnificent state of conservation,” he said, adding that it didn’t appear to have suffered any deterioration over the centuries since it was sealed.

“There is barely two fingers worth of sedimentation,” he added.

An initial study suggests the funerary urns are made of different limestones and glass and are sealed in protective lead casings. 

Vessels associated with funerary rights, including unguentaria (small bottles used to contain perfume or oil) and glass dishes where offerings would have been made, were also undamaged within the tomb.

The walls of the chamber are decorated with a geometric grid and there are inscriptions on three of the niches, perhaps indicating the name of those interred within. 

José Avilés, 39, the owner of the house, who is known by neighbours as Pepe, told local media that he was astounded by the discovery. “We never imagined when we were building an extension to the house that we should find such a thing,” he said.

“It’s all happened very quickly but our intention is to keep the chamber open, preserve it and protect it and somehow incorporate into the house,” he said.

“But we’ll have to see what the archaeological teams say,” he added. 

Work immediately started by the council’s archaeology department who said the artifacts found in the tomb would be closely studied and then go on display in the town’s archaeological museum.

Carmona, known as Carmo in Roman times, was one of the most important cities in Roman Spain and today is home to one of the most interesting Roman-era archaeological sites; the Roman Necropolis, a collection of over 300 tombs

Rare 3.8-million-year-old skull recasts origins of iconic ‘Lucy’ fossil

Rare 3.8-million-year-old skull recasts origins of iconic ‘Lucy’ fossil

The African skull aged 3.8 million years old is giving researchers a peek into humanity’s evolutionary history, a new study suggests.

The discovery explains what the face of a possible ancestor of the species famously represented by Lucy – the well-known Ethiopian skeleton discovered in the mid-1970s – may have looked like.

This thesis has been published in the British journal Nature, which was reviewed by superiors. The fossil cranium represents a specimen from a time interval between 4.1 and 3.6 million years ago when early human ancestor fossils are extremely rare, researchers say.

“The preservation of the specimen really is exceptional,” study co-author Stephanie Melillo, a palaeoanthropologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, told Nature. The skull was found in just two large pieces, which she says is unfathomably unlikely for a specimen of this age. “We just got really lucky with this find.”

The study was led by Yohannes Haile-Selassie of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. 

According to Nature, the scientists who discovered the skull say it was a male and belongs to a species called Australopithecus anamensis.

A reconstruction of the facial morphology of the 3.8 million-year-old ‘MRD’ specimen of Australopithecus anamensis

That ancestral species is the oldest known member of Australopithecus, a grouping of creatures that preceded our own branch of the family tree, called Homo.

It was also thought to precede Lucy’s species, which is known as Australopithecus afarensis.

But features of the latest find now suggest that the new fossil’s species shared the prehistoric Ethiopian landscape with Lucy’s species, for at least 100,000 years, the study authors say. This hints that the early evolutionary tree was more complicated than scientists had thought, Nature said.

The species of the famous fossil Lucy, Australopithecus afarensis, might have coexisted with another ancient hominin species.

This overlap challenges the widely-accepted idea of a linear transition between these two early human ancestors. “This is a game-changer in our understanding of human evolution during the Pliocene,” Haile-Selassie said.

“What we’ve known about Australopithecus anamensis so far was limited to isolated jaw fragments and teeth,” he said during a press conference. “We didn’t have any remains of the face or the cranium except for one small fragment near the ear region.”

The age of the fossil was determined to be 3.8 million years old and was done by dating minerals in layers of volcanic rocks nearby.

The fossil was found in 2016, in what was once sand deposited in a river delta on the shore of a lake in Woranso-Mille in Ethiopia. “I couldn’t believe my eyes when I spotted the rest of the cranium. It was a eureka moment and a dream come true,” said Haile-Selassie.

Experts unconnected to the new study praised the work. Eric Delson of Lehman College in New York called the fossil “beautiful” and said the researchers did an impressive job of reconstructing it digitally to help determine its place in the evolutionary tree.