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Ethiopian scientists said Tuesday that they have discovered hominid fossil fragments dating from between 3.5 million and 3.8 million years ago in what could fill a crucial gap in the understanding of human evolution.

Ethiopian archeologist Yohannes Haile Selassie said the find, which included several complete jaws and one partial skeleton, came from the Afar desert at Woranso-Mille, near where the famous fossil skeleton known as Lucy was found in 1974.

"This is a major finding that could fill a gap in human evolution," he told a news conference in Addis Ababa.

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"The fossil hominids from the Woranso-Mille area sample a time period that is poorly known in human evolutionary study."

Researchers say the area, about 230 kilometres northeast of Addis, boasts the most continuous record of human evolution.

Last year, an international team of scientists unveiled the discovery of 4.1 million-year-old fossils in the region.

Lucy, the most famous find, lived between 3.3 million and 3.6 million years ago. But Mr. Yohannes said Afar had yielded early hominid fossil remains spanning the past six million years.

"This has placed Ethiopia in the forefront of paleoanthropology," he told reporters.

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