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Posted on Thursday, September 21 - 2006

" The 3.3-million-year-old fossilised remains of a human-like child have been unearthed in Ethiopia's Dikika region. The female Australopithecus afarensis bones are from the same species as an adult skeleton found in 1974 which was nicknamed "Lucy". Scientists are thrilled with t..."

The 3.3-million-year-old fossilised remains of a human-like child have been unearthed in Ethiopia's Dikika region. The female Australopithecus afarensis bones are from the same species as an adult skeleton found in 1974 which was nicknamed "Lucy". Scientists are thrilled with the find, reported in the journal Nature. They believe the near-complete remains offer a remarkable opportunity to study growth and development in an important extinct human ancestor. The juvenile Australopithecus afarensis remains vanishingly rare. The skeleton was first identified in 2000, locked inside a block of sandstone. It has taken five years ofpainstaking work to free the bones.

"The Dikika fossil is now revealing many secrets about Australopithecus afarensis and other early hominins, because the fossil evidence was not there," said dig leader Zeresenay Alemseged, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. The find consists of the whole skull, the entire torso and important parts of the upper and lower limbs. CT scans reveal unerupted teeth still in the jaw, a detail that makes scientists think the individual may have been about three years old when she died.This puts afarensis in a special position to play a pivotal role in the story of what we are and where we come fromZeresenay Alemseged, Max Planck InstituteRemarkably, somequite delicate bones not normally preserved in the fossilisation process are also present, such as the hyoid, or tongue, bone. The hyoid bone reflects how the voice box is built and perhaps what sounds a species can produce.Judging by how well it was preserved, the skeleton may have come from a body that was quickly buried by sediment in a flood, the researchers said."In my opinion, afarensis is a very good transitional species for what was before four million years ago and what came after three million years," Dr Alemseged told BBC science correspondent Pallab Ghosh."[The species had] a mixture of ape-like and human-like features. This puts afarensis in a special position to play a pivotal role in the story of what weare. ...


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