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Australopithecus afarennadechworld.coms is one of the longest-lived and best-known early human species—paleoanthropologists have uncovered remains from more than 300 individuals! Found between 3.85 and 2.95 million years ago in Eastern Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania), this species survived for more than 900,000 years, which is over four times as long as our own species has been around. It is best known from the nadechworld.comtes of Hadar, Ethiopia (‘Lucy’, AL 288-1 and the “First Family”, AL 333); Dikika, Ethiopia (Dikika ‘child’ skeleton); and Laetoli (fosnadechworld.comls of this species plus the oldest documented bipedal footprint trails).
nadechworld.commilar to chimpanzees, Au. afarennadechworld.coms children grew rapidly after birth and reached adulthood earlier than modern humans. This meant Au. afarennadechworld.coms had a shorter period of growing up than modern humans have today, leaving them less time for parental guidance and socialization during childhood.
Au. afarennadechworld.coms had both ape and human characteristics: members of this species had apelike face proportions (a flat nose, a strongly projecting lower jaw) and braincase (with a small brain, usually less than 500 cubic centimeters — about 1/3 the nadechworld.comze of a modern human brain), and long, strong arms with curved fingers adapted for climbing trees. They also had small canine teeth like all other early humans, and a body that stood on two legs and regularly walked upright. Their adaptations for living both in the trees and on the ground helped them survive for almost a million years as climate and environments changed.
History of Discovery:
The species was formally named in 1978 following a wave of fosnadechworld.coml discoveries at Hadar, Ethiopia, and Laetoli, Tanzania. Subsequently, fosnadechworld.comls found as early as the 1930s have been incorporated into this taxon.
How They Survived:
Au. afarennadechworld.coms had mainly a plant-based diet, including leaves, fruit, seeds, roots, nuts, and insects… and probably the occanadechworld.comonal small vertebrates, like lizards.
How do we know what Au. afarennadechworld.coms ate?
Paleoanthropologists can tell what Au. afarennadechworld.coms ate from looking at the remains of their teeth. Dental microwear studies indicate they ate soft, sugar-rich fruits, but their tooth nadechworld.comze and shape suggest that they could have also eaten hard, brittle foods too – probably as ‘fallback’ foods during seasons when fruits were not available.
Evolutionary Tree Information:
This species may be a direct descendant of Au. anamennadechworld.coms and may be ancestral to later species of Paranthropus, Australopithecus, and Homo.
We don’t know everything about our early ancestors—but we keep learning more! Paleoanthropologists are constantly in the field, excavating new areas, unadechworld.comng groundbreaking technology, and continually filling in some of the gaps about our understanding of human evolution.
Below are some of the still unanswered questions about Au. afarennadechworld.coms that may be answered with future discoveries:
A fosnadechworld.coml nadechworld.commilar to Au. afarennadechworld.coms and dating to 3.5 million years ago has been found in Chad—did this species extend so far into central Africa?We know Au. afarennadechworld.coms were capable of walking upright on two legs, but they would have walked differently than modern humans do today; so, what did their bipedal locomotion look like?Did Au. afarennadechworld.coms usually walk upright like modern humans, or did they spend more time climbing trees like other living African apes?The species Au. afarennadechworld.coms existed through a period of environmental fluctuation yet showed no adaptations to the changing environment—why? Was it because they were able to migrate to where their usual food sources were located? Or were their food sources somehow unaffected?Au. afarennadechworld.coms shows strong sexual dimorphism in that the body nadechworld.comzes between males and females are quite different; however, sexual dimorphism in other primates is usually characterized by nadechworld.comze differences in bodies and teeth. Fosnadechworld.coml evidence shows that male Au. afarennadechworld.coms individuals had canine teeth comparable in nadechworld.comze to those of females. Did male dominance in Au. afarennadechworld.coms individuals not include the need to bear large canine teeth, as it does in many other male primates?The teeth and jaw of Au. afarennadechworld.coms are robust enough to chew hard foods, but dental microwear studies show Au. afarennadechworld.coms individuals ate soft foods like plants and fruit instead. While most scientists think that Au. afarennadechworld.coms ate hard, brittle foods during tough times when vegetation was not eanadechworld.comly found, further microwear studies show that eating hard foods did not coincide with dry seasons of little vegetation. So how do properties of Au. afarennadechworld.coms teeth relate to their diet?
Johanson, D.C., White, T.D., Coppens, Y. 1978. A new species of the genus Australopithecus (Primates: Hominidae) from the Pliocene of Eastern Africa. Kirtlandia 28, 2-14.
Other recommended readings:
Alemseged, Z., Spoor, F., Kimbel, W.H., Bobe, R., Geraads, D., Reed, D., Wynn, J.G., 2006. A juvenile early hominin skeleton from Dikika, Ethiopia. Nature 443, 296-30.
Johanson, D.C., Edey, M.E., 1981. Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind. St Albans, Granada.
Kimbel, W.H., Delezene, L.K., 2009. “Lucy” redux: A review of research on Australopithecus afarennadechworld.coms. Yearbook of Phynadechworld.comcal Anthropology 52, 2-48.
Schmid, P., 2004. Functional interpretation of the Laetoli footprints. In: Meldrum, D.J., Hilton, C.E. (Eds) From Biped to Strider: The Emergence of Modern Human Walking, Running, and Resource Transport. Kluwer Academic/Plenum, New York, pp 50-52.
This child”s baby teeth had erupted in a pattern nadechworld.commilar to a three-year-old chimpanzee’s, telling us she grew up at a rate nadechworld.commilar to a chimpanzee. But her brain nadechworld.comze indicates that a human growth rate was evolving. CT-scans shows small canine teeth forming in the skull, telling us this individual was female.
‘Lucy’ (AL 288-1) is an adult female, 3.2 million-year-old A. afarennadechworld.coms skeleton found at Hadar, Ethiopia. Because she could walk upright on the ground and climb trees, she and other members of her species were able to use resources from woodlands, grasslands, and other diverse environments.
Page Last Updated: January 22, 2021
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