Monday, October 05, 2009

Scientists unearth oldest human remains in Ethiopia

From Sudan Tribune, Saturday, 3 October 2009, by Tesfa-alem Tekle:
Scientists unearth oldest human remains in Ethiopia
October 2, 2009 (ADDIS ABABA) — A group of scientists have found a 4.4 million years old human ancestor in Ethiopia’s remote Afar area.

The uncovered remnant of a female, named "Ardi" is said to be the closest founding to the ’missing link’ common ancestor of humans and chimps, thought to have lived five to seven million years ago.

The discovery of the skeleton has allowed scientists to retrace the first evolutionary steps of our ancestors, after they split away from those of modern chimpanzees.

The fossil reveals our earliest predecessor to have been a stocky, stooping creature, covered in hair, with a protruding face, long arms and a grasping big toe.

Ardi lived a million years before the famous Lucy, the previous earliest skeleton of a hominid who was also found in Ethiopia’s Afar region, and was of the more human-like genus Australopithecus.

The first fossilized and crushed bones of Ardi were found in 1992 in the Great Rift Valley in northeastern Ethiopia of Afar region.But it has taken an international team of 47 scientists 17 years to piece together the skeleton which comprises 125 pieces. Ardi has a relatively small skull, suggesting a comparable level of intellect to modern chimps. Scientists said that, the angle of her head relative to her spine shows that she would have been able to walk upright in a stooped posture.

However they said she retains the "grasping" big toe of our more primitive ancestors, as well as long arms and big hands, which point to her being an able climber. Unlike chimpanzees and orangutans, though, she would not have been able to swing through the trees.

Dr. Berhane Asfaw, a researcher from the Rift Valley Research Service in Ethiopia, said that the latest finding is a landmark for the studies on human evolution.

According to the scientists, Ardi was a female, bigger in physical to Lucy, and weighed about 50 kilograms and stood about 120 centimeters tall.

The research, in the form of 11 detailed papers and more general summaries, is expected to be published today-in the Science journal’s 2 October, 2009, special issue.