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An artist's scupting of A. afarensis, based on the earlier Lucy skeleton.  (Source: Educa Madrid)

The bones of "Big Man"  (Source: Y. Haile Selassie et al./PNAS 2010)
"Whatever we’ve been saying about afarensis based on Lucy was mostly wrong."

Much like the revolution of modern astronomy in the late 1400s and early 1500s dissolved the notion that the Sun revolved around the Earth, a renaissance in paleontology is dissolving virtually any doubt that remained about man's origins.  Another new discovery has just been completed, the latest of several high profile publications over only the last year.

The new skeleton is a male Australopithecus afarensis, which has been discovered in Ethiopia’s Afar region.  The skeleton joins the celebrated "Lucy" skeleton, unearthed by paleoanthropologists in 1974, and a child skeleton unearthed last year.

The ancient male, an ancestor of modern man, lived approximately 3.6 million years ago in the plains of Eastern Africa, according to several dating techniques.  Yohannes Haile-Selassie of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, who led the team, says the skeleton offers some major new insights into the species.

The skeleton has been nicknamed "Big Man" as it towers at 5 to 5½ feet tall over the much shorter 3½-foot-tall Lucy, who lived 3.2 million years ago.  That large height deviation raises questions over which of the specimen is the norm in terms of height.  The new skeleton was unearthed between 2005 and 2008 at a dig site only 48 km from where Lucy was found.

The skeleton also reveals new insights into the bone structure of the species.  Big Man's 32 discovered bones reveal long legs, a narrow chest, and a inwardly curving back.  All of these indicate that he walked much like a human and enjoyed a ground-based lifestyle.  This is very different from the awkward gait that Lucy was thought to have.  Lucy also had been thought to climb trees a great deal.

The shoulder blade of Big Man is quite different from chimpanzees or gorillas.  And the ribs also appear human-like.  All of these factors indicate a far different chest shape than the chimplike, funnel-shaped chest that reconstructions of the Lucy skeleton indicated.

While confusing perhaps in context with Lucy, the conclusion that ancient hominids were not chimplike is consistent with the analysis of the 4.4-million-year-old Ardipithecus ramidus hominid that was conducted last year. 

Professor Haile-Selassie states, "Whatever we’ve been saying about afarensis based on Lucy was mostly wrong.  The skeletal framework to enable efficient two-legged walking was established by the time her species had evolved."

Carol Ward of the University of Missouri in Columbia seems to agree with these conclusions, stating, "This beautiful afarensis specimen confirms the unique skeletal shape of this species at a larger size than Lucy, in what appears to be a male."

While the discovery may have cleared up debate about whether Lucy was more chimplike or humanlike, the debate about gait is sure to continue.  Harvard University anthropologist Daniel Lieberman states, "There’s nothing special I can see on this new find that will change anyone’s opinion."

Anthropologist Owen Lovejoy of Kent State University, however, believes that the discovery shows Big Man to be a good runner, which could have made the 3.6-million-year-old footprints found more than 30 years ago at Laetoli, Tanzania.  Among the evidence supporting this hypothesis are Big Man's pelvis supported humanlike hamstring muscles and human-like arched feet.

The full study on the Big Man discovery is published here in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A separate 3.3 million year old skeleton of a 3-year-old baby female A. afarensis was presented four years ago.  Nicknamed "Selam" (the word for "peace" in several African languages), the near-complete skeleton was found in 2000 south of the Awash river by a team led by Zeresenay Alemseged of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

The paper on that discovery was published in a 2006 edition of Nature and can be found here.

These discoveries add to the aforementioned recent discovery of "Ardi", the discovery of Australopithecus sediba, and the completion of an early draft of the Neanderthal genome.  All of these wonderful discoveries have helped to blow away the fog of uncertainty surrounding human evolution and offered a much clearer picture of how man arrived at its current form after a slow process of evolution that took millions of years.


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RE: What a Crock
By MrBlastman on 6/22/2010 1:33:38 PM , Rating: 1
Correct, there is no physical evidence at all. Nada, zip, zilch. It isn't a science at all.

But, a Creationist can still be logical and believe in science. That is what I am getting at. They are out there, and they aren't Fundamentalists either. They routinely question anything and practically everything they believe.

Creationism is just a belief and a faith, but you can't say that it can not ever be proven.

We know evolution is a fact--this much is true and a logical Creationist would never dare argue against it. There is plenty of evidence to support evolution.

The divide exists on the origin of life, where there is zero scientific evidence to prove either viewpoint. It is like pissing up a river that keeps flowing back on you, never getting to where you want it to go.


RE: What a Crock
By sgw2n5 on 6/22/2010 1:47:23 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Creationism is just a belief and a faith, but you can't say that it can not ever be proven. We know evolution is a fact--this much is true and a logical Creationist would never dare argue against it. There is plenty of evidence to support evolution. The divide exists on the origin of life, where there is zero scientific evidence to prove either viewpoint.


Well... I personally know many creationists who reject every facet of evolution, but your mileage may vary.

And as far as the origin of life... there actually is a fair amount of supportive evidence for abiogenesis (I could send you some literature if you'd like, just give me your email if you are interested), but there is no way to truly re-create (or even know) exact physical conditions of earth 5 billion years ago.

Abiogenesis is speculative at best, and to scientifically "prove" it, you would need to know the exact physical conditions of ancient earth (which can be approximated) but the problem lies with the time frame. A scientist would literally have to let the experiment run for several million years to get the data and prove that it actually occurred.


RE: What a Crock
By GTVic on 6/22/2010 2:03:39 PM , Rating: 2
And I know many people who think the lottery is a solid investment, what's your point?


RE: What a Crock
By Reclaimer77 on 6/22/2010 2:12:09 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Well... I personally know many creationists who reject every facet of evolution, but your mileage may vary.


Evolution isn't the only science on the planet. Do they also not believe in gravity, relativity, and thermodynamic? Do they believe rain is God's tears falling from heaven and not atmospheric condensation? I find that hard to believe.

I mean, I'm trying to stay out of this, but what I'm reading from a lot of you is that if someone doesn't fully buy into the theory of evolution and how man came to be, they are automatically knuckle dragging braindead backwoods inbred worthless lobotomized apes who reject all science and modern advances. Some kind of cave dwellers or something.

You know I really hate Jason Mick for posting articles which intentionally divide the readership and cause arguments based on faith vs. science. When the truth is people with faith enjoy, believe, and benefit from science on a daily basis and they are well aware of it. Is it really THAT important to our daily lives that everyone agree on what happened billions of years ago? I have bigger problems to be honest.


RE: What a Crock
By ClownPuncher on 6/22/2010 2:43:39 PM , Rating: 2
Dude, you are funny. You are probably the #1 poster on DT that sees anyone who disagrees and strait up calls them idiots or retards. Don't put on your middle of the road hat, we all know it is BS.


RE: What a Crock
By Reclaimer77 on 6/22/2010 2:59:30 PM , Rating: 2
Well yeah but those topics are really important. You know, like where we're going not where we've been? This discussion is just an endless, never-to-be-resolved, belief war.

And, oh yeah, you're an idiot Clown :)


RE: What a Crock
By ClownPuncher on 6/22/2010 3:24:10 PM , Rating: 2
Importance is relative. Many people are skeptical of what they are told to put their faith in, whether it be evolution, Christ, Zoroaster, lack of God, Buddha and so on...

I think it is a noble quest to try and find out exactly where we came from and why, and I don't see why anyone should discount anyone elses religious beliefs when there is little proof in any of the teachings that any of them are fact.

My hope is that, whether or not all of this is ever figured out, we can all respect each other and what we choose to put our faith in. (excluding violent fanatics, who should be euthanized)


RE: What a Crock
By Reclaimer77 on 6/22/2010 4:12:10 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
My hope is that, whether or not all of this is ever figured out, we can all respect each other and what we choose to put our faith in. (excluding violent fanatics, who should be euthanized)


Right which is why you came out and called my post BS just because of who I am, not actually what it contained?


RE: What a Crock
By ClownPuncher on 6/22/2010 6:21:08 PM , Rating: 2
You're catching on! Why would someone trust or listen to your values, if you do not apply them to yourself?


RE: What a Crock
By retrospooty on 6/22/2010 5:51:49 PM , Rating: 2
"if someone doesn't fully buy into the theory of evolution and how man came to be, they are automatically knuckle dragging braindead backwoods inbred worthless "

True dat! =)

Evolution happened. That is a fact. We all came from single celled organisms that evolved over the past 4 billion years on earth. Our species has been on earth for appx 150,000 years. If you cant accept that as fact then yes, you are a knuckle dragging braindead backwoods inbred worthless ape.


RE: What a Crock
By teldar on 6/22/2010 5:43:28 PM , Rating: 2
He does say LOGICAL creationists. Which I disagree with.

I can't understand how a creationist can be a scientist, picking and choosing what parts of the body of science they want to accept and what parts they want to throw out the window to support personal religious ideals.
Sounds like knowledge schizophrenia to me.


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