Thursday, October 01, 2009

a new ancestor

It's all happening in Ethiopia right now, hominid "Ardi" is being introduced to the world -- follow Scientific American writer Kate Wong on twitter to find out all about it.

here's the advance press info we got from Science (which was embargoed until 48 minutes ago):

In a special issue of Science, an international team of scientists has for the first time thoroughly described Ardipithecus ramidus, a hominid species that lived 4.4 million years ago in what is now Ethiopia. This research, in the form of 11 detailed papers and more general summaries, will appear in the journal’s 2 October 2009 issue.

This package of research offers the first comprehensive, peer-reviewed description of the Ardipithecus fossils, which include a partial skeleton of a female, nicknamed “Ardi.”

The last common ancestor shared by humans and chimpanzees is thought to have lived six or more million years ago. Though Ardipithecus is not itself this last common ancestor, it likely shared many of this ancestor’s characteristics. For comparison, Ardipithecus is more than a million years older than the "Lucy" female partial skeleton of Australopithecus afarensis. Until the discovery of the new Ardipithecus remains, the fossil record contained scant evidence of other hominids older than Australopithecus.

Through an analysis of the skull, teeth, pelvis, hands, feet and other bones, the researchers have determined that Ardipithecus had a mix of “primitive” traits, shared with its predecessors, the primates of the Miocene epoch, and “derived” traits, which it shares exclusively with later hominids. Because of its antiquity, Ardipithecus takes us closer to the still-elusive last common ancestor. However, many of its traits do not appear in modern-day African apes. One surprising conclusion, therefore, is that it is likely that the African apes have evolved extensively since we shared that last common ancestor, which thus makes living chimpanzees and gorillas poor models for the last common ancestor and for understanding our own evolution since that time.

1 comment:

Peps said...

Its such a coincidence that this discovery was made the same time I'm studying hominid evolution. The topic's a bit tricky, but now I'm a lot more motivated!
I'm a little confused on this "Ardi", though. I'm going to research her more. Its so interesting!!


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