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News Release 05-008

Really Old Bones of Early Humans Unearthed in Ethiopia

Researcher uncovers four-million-year-old ancestral fossils

The Gona site

Excavation of a hominid site at Gona, Afar region, Ethiopia

January 19, 2005

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.


Arlington, Va.— An Indiana University team of anthropologists has excavated fossils of early humans in Gona, in the Afar region of Ethiopia, which they believe come from nine individuals of the species Ardipithecus ramidus who lived between 4.3 and 4.5 million years ago.

The research is reported in the Jan. 20, issue of the journal Nature.

"While biomolecular evidence helps us to date the timing of major events in the evolution of apes and humans, there is no substitute for fossils when it comes to trying to picture the anatomy and behavioral capabilities of our early relatives," said Mark Weiss, program officer at the National Science Foundation, which partially funded the research. "The late Miocene-early Pliocene is a particularly important era as it was roughly at that time that our ancestors and those of the chimpanzee parted company. Each new fossil helps to tell a bit more of the story of these early stages in human origins."

Several Ethiopian dig sites have yielded hominid fossils from that time period. The Gona site was previously known for the excavation of the oldest stone tools ever discovered. Plant and animal fossils indicate that these early humans lived in a low-lying area with swamps, springs, streams, and volcanic centers, with a mosaic of woodlands and grasslands.


Media Contacts
Elizabeth Malone, NSF, (703) 292-8070, email:

Program Contacts
Mark L. Weiss, NSF, (703) 292-7321, email:

Principal Investigators
Sileshi Semaw, CRAFT Stone Age Institute, Indiana University, (812) 876-0080, email:

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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