World’s Strangest

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Fifteen years ago, Berkeley scientist Tim White and a team of researchers from Ethiopia and America found bones of a hominid older than the 3.2 million-year-old Lucy (A. afarensis). The team collected 110 bones, enough to reconstruct the skeletons of what was unveiled today as Ardipithecus ramidus. These bones date from 4.4 million years ago! Carl Zimmer points out several ways that this prehistoric species tells us new things about the development of humans. For example, in some animal species (including apes), male canine teeth are much bigger than the female version. These are the species in which competition for females often turns violent.

White and his colleagues found so many teeth of different Ardipithecus individuals that they could compare male and female canines with some confidence. The male teeth turn out to be surprisingly blunted. This result suggests that hominids shifted away from a typical ape social structure early in our ancestry. If this was a result of males forming long-term bonds with females and helping raise young, this shift was able to occur while hominids were still living a very ape-like life. Ardipithecus existed about 2 million years before the oldest evidence of stone tools, suggesting that technology was not the trigger for the evolution of nice hominid guys.

There have been a couple of hominid bones found that are even older than Ardipithecus, but none with enough fossils to even begin reconstructing a skeleton. Link -via Metafilter

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October 1st, 2009

Stranger to the World


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