News FocusArdipithecus ramidus

A New Kind of Ancestor: Ardipithecus Unveiled

Science  02 Oct 2009:
Vol. 326, Issue 5949, pp. 36-40
DOI: 10.1126/science.326.5949.36

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Summary

In this special issue of Science, a multidisciplinary international team presents the oldest known skeleton of a potential human ancestor, 4.4-million-year-old Ardipithecus ramidus from Aramis, Ethiopia. This remarkably rare skeleton is not the oldest putative hominin, but it is by far the most complete of the earliest specimens. It includes most of the skull and teeth, as well as the pelvis, hands, and feet—parts that the authors say reveal an "intermediate" form of upright walking, considered a hallmark of hominins. To some researchers' surprise, the female skeleton doesn't look much like a chimpanzee, gorilla, or any of our closest living primate relatives. Even though this species probably lived soon after the dawn of humankind, it was not transitional between African apes and humans. Instead, the skeleton and pieces of at least 35 additional individuals of Ar. ramidus reveal a new type of early hominin that was neither chimpanzee nor human.