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Ardipithecus ramidus and the evolution of human vocal ability

Important fossil discoveries

Hundreds of pieces of fossilised bone were recovered during 1992-1994, all from localities west of the Awash River, in Aramis, Ethiopia. The finds number over 110 specimens and represent about 35 individual members of this species. Most of the remains are dental, but some skull and limb bones were also found. A partial humerus (arm bone) indicates that this species was smaller than the average Australopithecus afarensis.

In 2005, the remains of 9 individuals were recovered from As Duma in northern Ethiopia. The remains mostly consist of teeth and jaw fragments, but also some bones from the hands and feet.

Some specimens discovered earlier in Kanapoi, Lothagam and Tabarin could also belong to this species.

Key specimens

  • ARA-VP-6/1 teeth: This is the holotype for this species. It consists of teeth and jaw bone and was found in Aramis in 1993.
  • ‘Ardi’ ARA-VP-6/500: A partial skeleton found in 1994, consisting of about 125 pieces, was described and published in 2009. It is the oldest known skeleton of a human ancestor. The individual is believed to be a female and is nicknamed ‘Ardi’. She weighed about 50kg and stood about 120cm tall.The skeleton was in extremely poor condition and it took the team 15 years to excavate, scan, make virtual reconstructions, assemble and then analyse. The results were hugely significant in terms of how we view the evolution of the earliest hominins and the physical appearance of the last common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees. The skeleton does not look much like a chimp or gorilla or have the expected ‘transitional’ features. Instead, it may well preserve some of the characteristics of the last chimp-human ancestor. Analysis of the skeleton reveals that humans did not evolve from knuckle-walking apes, as was long believed. It also indicates that chimpanzee evolution underwent high degrees of specialisation since diverging from the last common ancestor and thus these apes are poor models for understanding the appearance of this ancestor.