Ardi redefines the branch between apes and hominins

Pat Shipman in American Scientist:

7619-20091271437527619-2010-01ShipmanFA The best thing about paleontology is the surprises.

No matter how carefully you have analyzed the fossils, no matter how insightful your understanding of the links between anatomical form and function, Mother Nature always comes up with something totally unpredicted.

Surprises certainly have been sprung by, and on, the international team of paleoanthropologists and paleontologists that looks for fossils in the remote Aramis region of Ethiopia where the Afar people live. The team is co-led by Berhane Asfaw of the Rift Valley Research Service in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Yonas Beyene of the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture in Ethiopia;the late J. Desmond Clark, formerly of the University of California, Berkeley; Giday Woldegabriel of the Los Alamos National Laboratory; and Tim White of the University of California, Berkeley. With a nice touch of delicacy, White refers to Clark as “inspiring but no longer making decisions” about the project.

On October 2, 2009, the team published in Science their analyses of a hominin (member of the human lineage) called Ardipithecus ramidus. The best representative of the species is a partial female skeleton nicknamed Ardi; she is 4.4 million years old and is certainly astonishing and noteworthy. There are parts of at least 35 other individuals in the collection, in addition to thousands of specimens of plants, invertebrates, fish and assorted nonprimate mammals from the same location.

More here.