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Monday, April 4, 2011

Monday Ground Up: Oldest Hominid Skeleton Fills In the Evolutionary Gap

In 2009, scientists identified a skeleton of a human-like species as Ardipithecus ramidus, possibly a human ancestor that might have lived 4.4 million years ago. Nicknamed “Ardi,” the skeleton was said to be over a million year older than Lucy, the skeleton that has been considered the oldest hominid skeleton prior to the discovery of Ardi.

Ardi, a female skeleton, was discovered in Ethiopia in 1992. A molar was first discovered, followed by a hand bone in 1994. A series of searches then ensued, which allowed the search team to unearth more bones, partially completing Ardi, the now oldest hominid skeleton, with 125 bones comprised of skull, pelvis, teeth, hands, feet, and limbs. Around 35 Ar. Ramidus bones were also excavated at the same site. the oldest hominid skeleton was unearthed which were also studied and used to draw a picture of Ar. ramidus’ anatomy, way of living, and habitat.

What the oldest hominid skeleton was like

Based on the findings, the four-foot tall Ardi is more like a human than a chimp. The oldest hominid skeleton hinted that Ardi walked upright but could also have climbed trees on her palms. She had opposable big toe that was very helpful when moving through trees. Ardi’s hands, arms, and legs were long. Her hands could carry objects while walking, a sign of dexterity. Her skull is way smaller than humans’ but is somewhat bigger than those of chimpanzees’. She might have subsisted on plants, fruits, and small animals. According to scientists, the oldest hominid skeleton Ardi might have weighted 110 pounds.

Her habitat is dense woodland with water springs, which was populated by different land, water, and air creatures such as elephants, monkeys, antelopes, hyenas, owls, parrots, and lovebirds. This description of Ardi’s habitat was based on the different fossils found at the excavation site.

The oldest hominid skeleton: The “link”

After doing a 17-year study of the oldest hominid skeleton, scientists proposed that Ardi could provide helpful information on the evolutionary history of humans. The discovery of the oldest hominid skeleton gave scientists more clues as to how humans evolved, painting a clearer picture of what the ancient ancestors might have looked like after the human evolution from apes, which started around seven or six million years ago.

Ardi’s human features also made the scientists re-think their early theory of the “split,” the point in the evolutionary process where humans and chimpanzees separately evolved from their shared ancestor. Scientists long believed that the last ancestor was chimp-like, but the now oldest hominid skeleton seemed to have indicated it wasn’t. But although the discovery of the oldest hominid skeleton might have altogether changed the theory, there at least was a link that can fill in a gap in the evolutionary map.

Margaret Keely is an anthropology enthusiast and a healthcare writer who offers nursing education courses to the future addition to the nursing workforce.



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