The Journal of Anthropological Research (JAR) announced the guest speaker for its 50th installment of the JAR Distinguished Lectures. The series founded by Lawrence Straus, the Leslie Spier Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the University of New Mexico Department of Anthropology. JAR is one of UNM’s best-known academic “ambassadors,” said Straus, who has served as editor since 1995 and is the longest-serving editor in JAR's history.

The virtual program is set for Thursday, Sept. 24, at 7 p.m. MDT, and guests should register online. Seats are first come, first served.

Renowned paleoanthropologist Yohannes Haile-Selassie will be the guest speaker on A new face to an old name: Recent discovery of a cranium of the earliest Australopithecus in Ethiopia. Haile-Selassie will describe his work at Woranso-Mille, a paleoanthropological site located in the Afar region of Ethiopia, where he discovered a 3.8 million-year-old hominin cranium of the earliest known species of Australopithecus anamensis, an early ancestor of today’s humans.

According to Nature magazine, Haile-Selassie "shook up the human family tree with the discovery of a remarkably preserved 3.8-million-year-old skull,” a find some say “is rivaled only by Lucy, the 3.2 million-year-old skeleton fossil of the closely related species Australopithecus afarensis.”  He is considered one of the field’s most talented fossil finders.

Haile-Selassie is curator of Physical Anthropology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and an adjunct professor at Case Western Reserve University.

Straus noted that Haile-Selassie directs the project and personally found the Australopithecus anamensis fossil, as well as many other fossils of Australopithicines and pre-Australopithecines. Haile-Selassie was named by the prestigious journal Nature as one of the world’s top 10 who mattered in science in 2019.

“Finding the Australopithecus anamensis fossil was one of the most exciting moments in my 30 years of fossil hunting. The feeling at the moment of discovery was inexplicable, to say the least,” Haile-Selassie recalled. “Complete fossil crania like this are extremely rare in the fossil record. There are none from that age (3.8 million years) and so far all fossil human remains older than 2 million years are found only in Africa.”

Haile-Selassie said the cranium was that of an old male individual based on its cranial features and heavily worn teeth. He is known simply as MRD. Based on the reconstructed paleoenvironment, MRD was living close to a lake with trees along its shores and more open areas away from the lake. Rivers with gallery forest along their banks flowed into the lake.

“Being a speaker at such a prestigious lecture series is a great honor for me. Seeing all the speakers before me clearly shows how important this series is,” Haile-Selassie noted.

JAR has been owned and published by UNM since it was founded by UNM Anthropology professor Leslie Spier in 1945. JAR, a highly respected international journal, has subscribers in about 50 countries and every one of the United States. All the lectures in the series are published in JAR. Lectures have been given by several of the most important paleoanthropologists of the late 20th and early 21st century, including Elizabeth Vrba, Clark Howell, Donald Johanson, Loring Brace, Matt Cartmill, Fred Smith, Sally McBrearty, Richard Klein, Owen Lovejoy and others, along with primatologists, ethnologists, linguistic anthropologists, biological anthropologists, Straus said.

“The lecture has to do with some of the fossils that are the earliest ancestors of us humans by one of the most active and successful current researchers in the discovery and analysis thereof,” Straus said, adding that anthropologists, archeologists, many geologists and human biologists, Africana Studies students, Maxwell Museum friends and others will find the lecture of great interest.

Information about and subscriptions to JAR may be accessed online.