Mostly complete skeletons are the best of all

huxley's evolution of manfrom T. H. Huxley’s 1863 book, Man’s Place in Nature, the first examination of Man’s place in the world following publication of Origin of Species

SCIENCE: Before “Lucy”; There Was “Ardi”:
[Via AAAS News – RSS Feed]

Before “Lucy,” There Was “Ardi”: First Major Analysis of One of Earliest Known Hominids Published in Science

In a special issue of Science, researchers offer the first detailed description of Ardipithecus ramidus, a hominid species that lived 4.4 million years ago in what is now Ethiopia.


One of the things that made Lucy so important was the almost complete skeleton that was obtained. This allowed a lot to be determined about many of her traits.

Now we have another, much older skeleton. Ardipithecus has been identified previously and, while not described as a direct ancestor of humans, it demonstrates several traits that alter our understanding of hominid evolution, as well as that of our sibling species, the chimpanzee.

In particular, Ardi was bipedal in its habits on the ground yet quadrupedal in the trees. This is quite different from chimps, indicating that their modes of moving around evolved after our last common ancestor walked around, about 6 million years ago. Knuckle walking came about more recently and appears not to be a likely trait of our ancestral line, for instance.

Ardi’s relative nonspecialization in locomotion really indicates that bipedal movement was most likely a trait that was lost by chimpanzees rather than picked up by us.

There is a lot here. Not only the skeleton of the singe female but also the remains of at least 36 similar individuals. We are not only learning a lot about what they looked like but also what they ate and how they lived.

Nicely, AAAS has recognized the importance of these finds and is providing a large amount of the information free of charge. Some of the highlights:

Ardipithecus ramidus and the Paleobiology of Early Hominids
Careful Climbing in the Miocene: The Forelimbs of Ardipithecus ramidus and Humans Are Primitive
Reexamining Human Origins in Light of Ardipithecus ramidus

Since 1863, the generalized progression has been from monkeys to apes to man. But, this current work indicates that the ancestors of both gorillas and chimps started creating their own way in the world that was quite different from ours, at a much earlier time than previously thought. IIt appears very likely that our ancestors retained more primitive and nonspecialized ways of moving around long after the line that became chimps had split off. It suggests that chimps lost the method of bipedalism that we retained, rather then it being our acquisition.

This is so exciting. I hope a book comes out that is as entertaining as the book about Lucy.

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