There is wonderful news today of the publication of an 11-article special issue of Science magazine chronicling the discovery and analysis of fossils from an ancient hominid dubbed Ardipithecus ramidus. I first learned of the discovery through this story on TIME.com by Michael Lemonick and Andrea Dorfman. J.H. Matternes’ visual reproduction of the creature, affectionately known as “Ardi” appears below:
Ardi presents a range of features that are, predictably, exactly what one might predict in a hominid that roamed the Ethiopian woodlands about a million years before our previously venerated oldest living relative, the Australopithecine Lucy. Ardi’s arms and hands were longer than Lucy’s, and her feet still had opposable big toes. These features point to a creature much more at home in the trees than Lucy most likely was. But Ardi was also clearly bipedal – an upright walker not that much different than you or me. In fact, the most surprising thing about the fossils is that Ardi is less chimplike than we might predict. It was not a knuckle-walker, for example. This may mean that the common ancestor of humans and chimps, which likely was around about 7 million years ago, wasn’t necessarily that much more chimplike than Ardi.
One of the best things about the discovery is that there is a tremendous record in terms of Ardi’s remains and those of animals and plants in the surroundings. Ardi demonstrates that bipedality in hominids did not evolve in response to colonization of grasslands; Ardi’s environment was mostly forested.
Really cool discovery – can’t wait to learn more about this!