Humanity is 1 million years older. Scientists have discovered an ancestor of today's men of 4.4 million years.
O Ardipithecus ramidus (or just "Ardi," as it is affectionately called) has been thoroughly described by an international team of scientists, who reported the discovery in a special issue of this week's "Science" magazine.
The analyzed specimen, a female, lived in what is now Ethiopia 1 million years before Lucy's birth (long studied as the oldest human ancestor skeleton).
The skull and jaw of Ardipithecus ramidus; animal was described as the oldest ancestor of man (Photo: Reproduction / Science)
"This old skeleton reverses the common sense of human evolution," said anthropologist C. Owen Lovejoy of Kent State University. Rather than suggesting that humans evolved from a chimpanzee-like creature, the new finding provides evidence that chimpanzees and humans evolved from a common ancestor long ago. Each species, however, has taken separate paths in the evolutionary line.
"This is not the common ancestor, but it is the closest we come," said Tim White, director of the Center for Human Evolution at the University of California, Berkeley. Modern humans and modern apes probably had a common ancestor between 6 million and 7 million years ago.
Ardi, however, has many characteristics that do not appear in today's African monkeys, leading to the conclusion that monkeys have evolved a lot since we shared the last common ancestor.
Ardi's study, ongoing since the first bones were discovered in 1994, indicates that the species lived in forests and could climb trees. The development of their arms and legs, however, indicates that they did not spend much time in the trees: they could walk upright on two legs when they were on the ground.
"This is one of the most important discoveries for the study of human evolution," said David Pilbeam, curator of paleoanthropology at the Harvard Museum of Archeology and Ethnology. "It is relatively complete as the head, hands, feet and some other important parts have been preserved. It represents a possibly ancestral genus of the Australopithecus - who were ancestors of our kind Homo"said Pilbeam, who was not part of the investigation teams.
The scientists assembled the skeleton of the Ardipithecus ramidus (meaning “root of the terrestrial apes) with 125 skeleton pieces found.
Lucy, also found in Africa, prospered a million years after Ardi and was one of the Australopithecus more similar to humans.
"At the Ardipithecus we have a non-specialized form that has not evolved much toward Australopithecus. So when you look from head to toe, you see a creature that is neither chimpanzee nor human. IS Ardipithecus"said White.
The researcher noted that Charles Darwin, whose research in the 19th century paved the way for the science of evolution, was cautious about the last common ancestor of humans and apes. "Darwin said we have to be very careful. The only way to know what this last common ancestor looked like is by finding him," White said. "In 4.4 million years, we found something very close to him."
With Associated Press and Reuters