The beliefs of fundamentalist religious people tend to vex me to a considerable extent; their beliefs go directly against all verifiable evidence and data, yet they proclaim that such evidence is somehow false and keep on believing that the Earth was created in a small number of days and is only a few thousand years old. Young earth creation theory is a load of bull and those who believe in it tend not to be the sharpest tools in the proverbial shed and they’ll undoubtedly say that this latest find is false … but you never know, maybe they’ll see this extra pebble being added to the already existing mountain and come to their sense.
A 3.3 million-year-old skeleton of the earliest child ever found shows the ancient ancestor of modern humans walked upright, but may have also climbed trees.
Scientists discovered the well-preserved remains of the three-year-old girl of the species Australopithecus afarensis – the species which includes the famous fossil skeleton known as “Lucy” – in an area of Ethiopia called Dikika.
“It represents the earliest and most complete partial skeleton of a child ever found in the history of paeleoanthropology,” Dr Zeresenay Alemseged, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, said.
The skull, torso and upper and lower limbs, including the hand, show both human and ape-like features.
The state of the ancient bones suggests she was buried in a flood that may have also caused her death.
The remains provide the first evidence of what babies of early human ancestors looked like.
The nearly complete skeleton will also provide information about the child’s height and structure.
“This child will help us understand a lot about the species to which it belongs,” Dr Alemseged, the leader of the international team of scientists who reported the findings in the journal Nature, said.
“The lower part of the body, which includes the foot, the shin bone and the thigh bone, clearly shows us that this species was an upright walking creature,” he said.
But he says some of the features from the upper part of the body, including the shoulder blade and arms, are more ape-like.
The fingers are long and curved which suggest she might have been able to swing through trees.
“My opinion is that we can not exclude that Australopithecus afarensis climbed trees,” he said.
Dr Simon Underdown, of Oxford Brookes University in England, has described it as a massively exciting discovery of a juvenile “Lucy”.
“The skeleton shows that Australopithecus afarensis clearly walked on two feet, but the upper body hints at lots of time spent climbing in trees,” he said in a statement.
“This tremendous fossil will make us challenge many of the ideas we have about how and why we came to walk on two feet,” he said.
An analysis of the sediment in which the remains were found have enabled researchers to build a picture of the type of environment in which the child lived.
It was a lush area with flowing water, forests and grassland. It was also affected by volcanic eruptions.
“We can see from the sediment that the region was very much characterised by a mosaic of environment that ranged from forests and woodlands near the rivers, to seasonally flooded grasslands, to a flood plain that would have supported more open vegetation,” said Dr Jonathan Wynn, of the University of South Florida, who has dated the sediments surrounding the remains.
Fascinating stuff when you think about it. It’s simply amazing what scientists, of all fields, continually discover time and again.