Thursday, October 01, 2009

Fossils Shed New Light on Human Origins -

Fossils Shed New Light on Human Origins -
An international research team led by paleoanthropologist Tim White at the University of California, Berkeley, unveiled remains from 36 males, females and young of an ancient prehuman species called Ardipithecus ramidus, unearthed in the Awash region of Ethiopia since 1994. The creatures take their scientific name from the word for root in the local Afar language. They are not the oldest known homind fossils but they comprise the most complete set discovered so far.

"It is not a chimp and it is not human," said Dr. White. "It gives us a new perspective on our origins. We opened a time capsule from a time and place that we knew nothing about."

Although the differences between humans, apes and chimps today are legion, all shared a common ancestor six million years or so ago. These fossils suggest that creature--still undiscovered--resembled a chimp much less than researchers have always believed.

In fact, so many traits in chimps and apes today are missing in these early hominids that researchers now question the notion that modern chimps and apes embody vestiges of humanity's primate past, retaining primitive traits once shared by human ancestors. "We all thought the ancestral animal would look more like a chimp," explained Yale University anthropologist Andrew Hill.

Instead, the new finds show that what seems most ancient about nonhuman primates today--such as canine fangs, long limbs with hooked fingers meant for swinging through trees and hands designed for knuckle-walking--may actually be the product of more recent development, the researchers said. In that sense, the human hand today actually may be the more primitive appendage, they said.

"It is the chimps and gorillas that have been evolving like crazy in terms of limbs and locomotion, not hominids," said Kent State University anthropologist Owen Lovejoy, a senior scientist on the research team. "We took a different tack. We went social."

No comments: