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Ardipithecus ramidus and the evolution of human vocal

What the name means

The name is derived from the local Afar language. ‘Ardi’ means ‘ground’ or ‘floor’ and ‘pithecus’ is Latinised Greek for ‘ape’. The name ‘ramid’ means ‘root’ in the Afar language.

Distribution

Fossils belonging to this species were found in eastern Africa in the Middle Awash valley, Ethiopia. Additional fossils that may also belong to this species have been collected in northern Kenya.

Relationships with other species

This species position as a direct ancestor of humans is unclear and scientists are still debating where it should be placed relative to our direct line. The discovers think it was ancestral to Australopithecus – it is the only putative hominin in evidence between 5.8 and 4.4 million years ago – but others do not agree. Even if Ardipithecus ramidus is not on our direct line, it must have been closely related to the direct ancestor and probably similar in appearance and adaptation. It also offers new insights into how we evolved from the common ancestor we share with chimps.

This species was originally classified as Australopithecus ramidus in 1994, but was reclassified in 1995 because its discoverers believed it was distinct enough to be placed into a new genus, Ardipithecus.

Key physical features

This species was a facultative biped and stood upright on the ground but could move on all four limbs in trees. Features of the anatomy are extremely primitive.

Brain

  • about 300-350cc, similar in size to modern female chimpanzees and bonobos

Body size and shape

  • similar in size to modern chimpanzees. The most complete specimen, a female, stood about 120cm tall
  • males were only slightly larger than females
  • the body shape was more ape-like than humans, but differed from living African apes in a number of significant features