Wednesday, September 20, 2006
3.3 million year old found
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 of painstaking 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.