Friday, 2 October 2009

Addition to the family

An old monkeywoman, Ardi, has been given a bit of a write-up in today's issue of Science. She is about 4.4 million years old, which makes her a good bit older than a later neighbour, Lucy, who's thought to be 3.2 million - still of bus-pass age but relatively spritely. Both fossils were found in the Afar Rift valley in Ethiopia; Lucy in 1974 and Ardi in 1992, along with remains of a few dozen other individuals.

Lucy was an Australopithicus afarensis, while Ardi has the name Ardipithecus ramidus and shows more primitive characteristics. Flatter feet suggest Ardi and her species spent less time walking upright than Lucy's bunch. Her opposable toes and great, flapping hands suggest she was still more of a tree climber than her cousin, too.

It'll need a lot more work to be more certain of where Ardipithecus fits on the hominid tree, but it seems unlikely that they are directly in line with Australopithecus as the earliest of the latter found so far is dated to around 4 million years ago. Seems quite possible that the two had a period of overlapping existence. Maybe Ardi's descendants knew Lucy's ancestors. It'd be nice to think they all played in an inter-genus East African football league together. Probably didn't happen. Remember - this was even before buses and half-time pies.

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