Advisory Board

Dr. Zeresenay “Zeray” Alemseged

The Scientific American article Special Report: Lucy’s Baby An extraordinary new human fossil comes to light said

The arid badlands of Ethiopia’s Afar region have long been a favorite hunting ground for paleoanthropologists. The area is perhaps best known for having yielded “Lucy”, the 3.2-million-year-old skeleton of a human ancestor known as Australopithecus afarensis. Now researchers have unveiled another incredible find, from a site called Dikika, just four kilometers from where Lucy turned up. It is the skeleton of an A. afarensis child who lived 3.3 million years ago. No other hominin of such antiquity — including Lucy — is as complete as this one. Moreover, as the earliest juvenile hominin ever found, the Dikika fossil provides a rare opportunity to study growth processes in our ancient relatives.
Fossil hunters led by paleoanthropologist Zeresenay Alemseged, now at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, discovered the remains — believed to be those of a three-year-old girl — in 1999. Most of the upper part of the skeleton was entombed in sandstone when it was found. It has taken Alemseged five years to remove enough of the cement-like matrix to expose the key elements, and many more bones remain obscured by the sediment. Still, the specimen has already yielded precious insights into a species that most researchers agree gave rise to our own genus, Homo.

Dr. Zeresenay “Zeray” Alemseged’s research program focuses on the discovery and interpretation of hominid fossil remains and their environments with emphasis on fieldwork designed to acquire new data on early hominid skeletal biology, environmental context, and behavior.
Specifically, Zeray is currently working in the following areas:

  • Description of new hominin and non human primate fossils;
  • Growth and development in early hominins;
  • Application of new techniques, such as CT analysis to investigate internal and external structures hominin fossils;
  • Analysis of environmental and ecological factors affecting primate and human evolutionary processes;
In order to support this with new data, he initiated the Dikika Research Project (DRP) in 1999, which is undertaking its multidisciplinary filed research on sediments that span in age from over 3.8 Ma to less 500,000, and addresses some of the major questions in paleoanthropology. The Pliocene site of Dikika promises to increase our knowledge of the diversity of hominins prior to the time period represented by the oldest sediments of Hadar and other east African sites, and subsequent to the radiation of hominin species after the split from the great apes. The Asbole sediments on the other hand represent a time period poorly known in the region, the Middle Pleistocene. Thus the area has potential to increase our understanding of the patterns of transition from H. erectus (H. heidelbergensis) to H. sapiens.
Zeray coedited Hominin Environments in the East African Pliocene: An Assessment of the Faunal Evidence (Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology), coauthored First hominin from the Basal Member of the Hadar Formation and A new Middle Pleistocene Fauna from the Busidima-Telalak region of the Afar, and authored An integrated approach to taphonomy and faunal change in the Shungura Formation (Ethiopia) and its implication for hominid evolution. Read his full list of publications!
He earned a BSc. in Geology at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia in 1990, a M.Sc. in paleontology from the University of Montpellier II and Paris VI, France in 1994, and a Ph.D. in paleoanthropology and paleoenvironment from the University of Paris VI and the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle et Paris VI in 1998. He knows English, French, Amharic, Tigrigna, Basic Oromifa, and just taking German.
Read the Scientific American interview Finding Lucy’s Baby: Q&A with Zeresenay Alemseged: The leader of the team that discovered the earliest baby in the human fossil record discusses the significance of the find.