Thursday, September 21, 2006



From Scientific American:
The arid badlands of Ethiopia's Afar region have long been a favorite hunting ground for paleoanthropologists. The area is perhaps best known for having yielded "Lucy," the 3.2 million-year-old skeleton of a human ancestor known as Australopithecus afarensis. Now researchers have unveiled another incredible find, from a site called Dikika, just four kilometers from where Lucy turned up. It is the skeleton of an A. afarensis child who lived 3.3 million years ago. No other hominin of such antiquity--including Lucy--is as complete as this one. Moreover, as the earliest juvenile hominin ever found, the Dikika fossil provides a rare opportunity to study growth processes in our long ago relatives.

As a frame of reference, the earliest complete skeleton of a human-related child that had previously been found was less than 300,000 years old.

Here's another interesting excerpt:
The skull, too, is an amalgam of old and new traits, as two aspects of the Dikika baby underscore. The first is the hyoid--a delicate, rarely preserved bone that helps anchor throat muscles. It's anatomy suggests that A. afarensis had a voice box similar to a chimp's. The second is the fossil's natural endocast, an impression of the braincase. The child had attained only 63 to 88 percent of the adult brain size by the age of three. A chimp of comparable age, in contrast, has reached more than 90 percent of its adult brain size. This raises the possibility that A. afarensis experienced a more humanlike pattern of brain growth.

It's all amazing, and you can read the Scientific American story here as well as an MSNBC story (with an excellent picture of the skull) here.

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