First early hominin from central Africa (Ishango, Democratic Republic of Congo).
Despite uncontested evidence for fossils belonging to the early hominin genus Australopithecus in East Africa from at least 4.2 million years ago (Ma), and from Chad by 3.5 Ma, thus far there has been no convincing evidence of Australopithecus, Paranthropus or early Homo from the western (Albertine) branch of the Rift Valley. Here we report the discovery of an isolated upper molar (#Ish25) from the Western Rift Valley site of Ishango in Central Africa in a derived context, overlying beds dated to between ca. 2.6 to 2.0 Ma. We used µCT imaging to compare its external and internal macro-morphology to upper molars of australopiths, and fossil and recent Homo. We show that the size and shape of the enamel-dentine junction (EDJ) surface discriminate between Plio-Pleistocene and post-Lower Pleistocene hominins, and that the Ishango molar clusters with australopiths and early Homo from East and southern Africa. A reassessment of the archaeological context of the specimen is consistent with the morphological evidence and suggest that early hominins were occupying this region by at least 2 Ma.