Oldest hominid skeleton rewrites human evolutionary history

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Washington, October 2 (ANI): An international team of scientists has confirmed the discovery of the oldest hominid skeleton on Earth, which at 4.4 million years of age, would revolutionize our understanding of the earliest phase of human evolution.he female skeleton, nicknamed 'Ardi', is 4.4 million years old, 1.2 million years older than the skeleton of Lucy, or Australopithecus afarensis, the most famous and, until now, the earliest hominid skeleton ever found.

The find reveals that our forebears underwent a previously unknown stage of evolution more than a million years before Lucy.

The fossil puts to rest the notion, popular since Darwin's time, that a chimpanzee-like missing link-resembling something between humans and today's apes-would eventually be found at the root of the human family tree.

Indeed, the new evidence suggests that the study of chimpanzee anatomy and behavior-long used to infer the nature of the earliest human ancestors-is largely irrelevant to understanding our beginnings.

Ardi instead shows an unexpected mix of advanced characteristics and of primitive traits seen in much older apes that were unlike chimps or gorillas. s such, the skeleton offers a window on what the last common ancestor of humans and living apes might have been like.

"This is the oldest hominid skeleton on Earth," said Tim White, University of California, Berkeley, professor of integrative biology and one of the co-directors of the Middle Awash Project, a team of 70 scientists that reconstructed the skeleton and other fossils found with it.

A hand-bone discovered in 1994 in Ethiopia by project scientist Yohannes Haile-Selassie, a paleontologist and curator at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, eventually led the team to the partial skeleton now known as Ardi, which they excavated during three subsequent field seasons.

White and his team's reconstruction of the 4-foot-tall skeleton and of Ardi's environment alters the picture scientists have had of the first hominid to arise after the hominid line that would eventually lead to humans split about 6 million years ago from the line that led to living chimpanzees.

Based on a thorough analysis of the creature's foot, leg and pelvis bones, for example, the scientists concluded that Ardi was bipedal - she walked on two legs - despite being flat-footed and likely unable to walk or run for long distances.

"Ardi was not a chimpanzee, but she wasn't human," said White. "When climbing on all fours, she did not walk on her knuckles, like a chimp or gorilla, but on her palms. No ape today walks on its palms," he added.

"This find is far more important than Lucy," said Alan Walker, a paleontologist from Pennsylvania State University. "It shows that he last common ancestor with chimps didn't look like a chimp, or a human, or some funny thing in between," he added. (ANI)

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