Saturday, March 05, 2005

CMNH Team Discovers Humankind's First Walking Ancestor

Various news sources, including Anthony Mitchell of the CBC, are reporting on a new find made by researcher’s from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History that has been whispered around the halls here for the past week.

Tibia of new hominid

Yohannes Haile-Selassie, an Ethiopian scientist and curator at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History as well a co-leader of the discovery team believes that they have found the fossilized remains of what they believe is humankind's first walking ancestor, a hominid that lived in the wooded grasslands of the Horn of Africa nearly 4 million years ago. The bones were discovered in February at a new site called Mille, in the northeastern Afar region of Ethiopia, said Bruce Latimer, director of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in the U.S. state of Ohio. They are estimated to be 3.8-4 million years old.

The fossils include a complete tibia from the lower part of the leg, parts of a thighbone, ribs, vertebrae, a collarbone, pelvis and a complete shoulder blade, or scapula. There is also an anklebone which, with the tibia, proves the creature walked upright, said Latimer, co-leader of the team that discovered the fossils.
The bones are the latest in a growing collection of early human fragments that help explain the evolutionary history of man.

"Right now we can say this is the world's oldest bipedal and what makes this significant is because what makes us human is walking upright," Latimer said. "This new discovery will give us a picture of how walking upright occurred."

Paleontologists previously discovered in Ethiopia the remains of a hominid called Ardipithecus ramidus, a transitional creature with significant ape-like characteristics that lived as far back as 4.5 million years. Scientists know little about A. ramidus. A few skeletal fragments suggest it was even smaller than Australopithecus afarensis, the 3.2 million-year-old species widely known by the nearly complete "Lucy" fossil, which measures about 4 feet tall.

Scientists are yet to classify the new find, which they believe falls between A. ramidus and A. afarensis. The specimen is the only the fourth partial skeleton ever to be discovered that is older than 3 million years. It was found after two months of excavation at Mille, 37 miles from the famous Lucy discovery.