News FocusArdipithecus ramidus

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Science  02 Oct 2009:
Vol. 326, Issue 5949, pp. 40
DOI: 10.1126/science.326_40

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A long cairn of black stones marks the spot where a skeleton of Ardipithecus ramidus was found, its bones broken and scattered on a barren hillside. Erected as a monument to an ancient ancestor in the style of an Afar tribesman's grave, the cairn is a solitary marker in an almost sterile zone, devoid of life except for a few thorny acacia trees and piles of sifted sediment. That's because the Middle Awash research team sucked up everything in sight at this spot, hunting for every bit of fossil bone as well as clues to the landscape 4.4 million years ago, when Ardipithecus died here. The heaps of sediment are all that's left behind from that fossil-mining operation, which yielded one of the most important fossils in human evolution (see main text, p. 36), as well as thousands of clues to its ecology and environment.