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K. Kris Hirst

Ardipithecus ramidus, a Photo Essay

By October 1, 2009

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In Science this week is a stunning array of articles describing the latest information on the 4.4 million year old hominid Ardipithecus ramidus, a hominid which is considered ancestral to humans.

Probable life appearance in anterior view of Ardipithecus ramidus (
Probable life appearance in anterior view of Ardipithecus ramidus ("Ardi"), ARA-VP 6/500.
Illustration 2009, J.H. Matternes

The intensive research has revealed a need for the revision of what paleontologists have long considered about our immediate ancestors. Genetically, evidence is unequivocal that our nearest living relative is the chimpanzee, and paleontologists believed that our joint ancestor, estimated to have lived some 6 million years ago or more, would have both chimpanzee and human traits. But what Ardipithecus suggests is that many of the chimpanzee traits may have evolved after our two species lines diverged.

The 11 articles written by a group of nearly 50 researchers, include a detailed analysis of Ardi, a substantially complete A. ramidus, recovered from the Middle Awash region of the Rift Valley. Ardi was a female who weighed about 50 kilograms and stood about 120 centimeters tall; she is the tall drink of water whose reconstruction is illustrated in this blog post. Also featured are data from over 110 Ardipithecus remains from the Afar Rift of northeastern Ethiopia. In addition to a detailed examination of the differences between Ardipithecus, Australopithecus and her more remote descendants, the articles include summaries of what the researchers believe the environment for Ardipithecus ramidus was, as well as what her diet and living style might have been.

A set of images was provided to us science journalists types, so I (naturally) created a photo essay of the story.

By the way, I'm told the Discovery Channel will air a documentary about this research on October 11, 2009; should be interesting!

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October 2, 2009 at 8:02 am
(1) Mike Licht says:

Ardi’s robust thumb musculature and flexible midcarpal (wrist) joint are perfect for text-messaging.



October 5, 2009 at 7:31 pm
(2) Kat Pettycrew says:

So, Mike, you think things have come full circle, as always? :o )

How about texting with those thumbs on a nice tree trunk drum?!

Kris, why would it take 15 years to investigate something without ever giving out a peep? I can see not rushing into presumptous statements, but 15 years is an awfully long time when they had such a nice specimen to work with.

October 5, 2009 at 8:24 pm
(3) Kris Hirst says:

Oh, I can see how it would happen. We’re not talking about a bunch of guys who spent all of their time looking at the bits of A. ramidus, we’re talking about 50 guys, all of whom had teaching duties and other research issues that they had to deal with. You betcha, I can see it taking 15 years.

I’m not sure, if I was making a claim for such a big change, I would rush to publish, or even talk about in professional meetings (but—maybe they did talk about it in professional meetings, I really don’t know).


October 6, 2009 at 5:30 am
(4) James Marshall says:

For the human race to descend from apes I’ve never understood.

Because apes are still apes, and human beings for all our evolution as scientists claim, are still human. Meaning apes haven’t progressed to our level… And we still have ameba’s floating around in water…

Human beings make war, kill people for silly reasons, we lie, cheat, steal, showing traits of dishonesty not seen in the animal Kingdom.

While the animal kingdom does fight, it does not war against it’s own species out of greed. When a certain animals species kills another species, or even it’s own kind, it’s only out of necessity for survival.

We want to say human evolved from apes! Great! But the apes obey a higher law, the tend to live a peaceful life overall, they still have hands for feet, taking better care of each other than we do ourselves and our families.

Because of this reasoning, I am very doubtful we descended from a monkey. We as humans do not obey the natural laws of nature, but tend to break them at every corner. We as human being are rebels.

Even today, we’re still rebelling. From what?

From being apes? Is that why we war, cheat steal and lie?

That said, great story!

October 6, 2009 at 8:27 am
(5) Kris Hirst says:

Well, apes and us, we’re still descended from a common ancestor. Archaeologists just think that common ancestor looked more like a hominid than an ape. It’ll be interesting to see how this shakes our family tree for sure.


October 7, 2009 at 2:45 pm
(6) doug l says:

Reading some of the reports on this fossil site, I’m not surprised it’s taken this long to compile the data into reports like these. What I find most exciting is that a miles long ecosystem of forest mosaic was evidently enveloped between a couple of ashfalls that occured within ony a relatively few years that trapped the entire landscape.
What’s the buzz coming out of South Africa’s Sterkfontein fossil site?

October 16, 2009 at 12:55 pm
(7) Aleuicius says:

James; as habitat shrinks, SOME inhabitants remain with it, while others are kept out. These outcasts change, or die – while the “originals” have no compulsion for change and continue as ever.

Ardi seems like an early adaptation and is interesting from that point. I would be more interested in the “journey” that resulted in Modern Humans’ (Cro-Magnon) migration out from Africa and subsequent “return” to western Europe. I think the three major hypotheses are all valid and overlapping, with Modern Humans the successful result.

I think my retirement has some archeological possibilities.

February 28, 2010 at 1:23 am
(8) dutchaaus kennels says:

As with some of these more popular religions ,Anthropology and all of its Subfields are still in their infancy . These Sciences ,methods and what the earth itself delivers , im sure will change with leaps and bounds..

March 25, 2010 at 3:59 am
(9) nicholas says:

as evident w/ the siberian find . I dont seem to grasp why the dna is not definitive in determining if she is a new species? Could someone put it into simple terms for me ?

March 26, 2010 at 7:53 am
(10) Kris Hirst says:

Well, no DNA from Ardipithecus–that would be something of a miracle indeed.

The DNA reported from Woman X (which is the tentative name for the sample at Denisova cave in Siberia) is mtDNA–mitochondrial DNA. The researchers need to look at nuclear DNA to establish whether she or he is a straight line descendant of the people who migrated out of Africa a million years ago, or an admixture of those people and, say, Neanderthal or EMH. Paabo’s team is right now looking at the nuclear DNA and they promised a result sometime in the next few months.

Then, as you say, Nicholas, we will have a definitive answer.


June 23, 2012 at 9:09 pm
(11) ferla says:

Next to the Bhagavid Gita, I am overwhelmingly convinced that all human life forms descended from Ardipithecus Ramidus.

Darwinian evolution is present everywhere and if you can “open your mind” to the truth it will be revealed to you.

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