Fossil Find Shakes Up Evolution Timeline

Ardipithecus ramidus lived in trees and walked upright

By Harry Kimball,  Newser Staff

Posted Oct 1, 2009 11:51 AM CDT

(Newser) – A primate fossil found in Africa in 1994 predates the famous “Lucy” skeleton by 1 million years and offers clues to human evolution, researchers say. “This is huge,” a paleoanthropologist tells the Washington Post. “This is the biggest discovery really since” Lucy. The researchers believe “Ardi”—Ardipithecus ramidus—lived in trees but could walk upright to forage for food on the ground.

“Ardi” would have been able to live in both the forest and savannah environments of Africa some 4 million years ago. “Is she our ancestor?" the team’s leader wonders. “Probably not. If she didn't have any kids, tough luck, she's nobody's ancestor.” But the fossil is as close as scientists have come to the “last common ancestor” of chimps and humans, and suggests our primate cousins have evolved much more than we have.

Dr. C. Owen Lovejoy, a member if the team, with a reproduction of Lucy's skeleton.
Dr. C. Owen Lovejoy, a member if the team, with a reproduction of Lucy's skeleton.   (AP Photo)
A three-dimensional model of the 3.2 million-year-old hominid known as Lucy.
A three-dimensional model of the 3.2 million-year-old hominid known as Lucy.   (AP Photo)
A speculative rendering of Ardipithecus ramidus, source of the fossil that's shaking up archaeology.
A speculative rendering of Ardipithecus ramidus, source of the fossil that's shaking up archaeology.   (J.H. Matternes/Science)
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Ardi tells us twice as much as Lucy did. We have hands and feet, a more complete environment, a more complete skeleton, it's older, it's more primitive, it shows us the process of transformation. - C. Owen Lovejoy, Kent State University

The Ardipithecus genus gave rise to Australiopithecus even though we can't say exactly what species did. Maybe ramidus did. But certainly something like ramidus did. - Tim White, UC-Berkeley

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