Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Burtele Foot Indicates Lucy Not Alone

03.04.2012
Discovery of partial foot skeleton could mean hominin species lived side by side

A new fossil discovery from Eastern Africa called the Burtele foot indicates Australopithecus afarensis, an early relative of modern humans, may not have been the only hominin to walk the plains and woodlands of what is now the Afar region of Ethiopia some 3.4 million years ago.

Researchers openly have questioned whether Au. afarensis, the species to which the famous fossil "Lucy" belongs, was the only living hominin during the late Pliocene of Africa. Lucy's bones provided evidence that she and perhaps other early hominins may have walked upright, but whether or not she was the sole hominin species in her particular geologic time scale has been the subject of much debate.

"There was indeed more than one early hominin species during that time," said Yohannes Haile-Selassie, head of Physical Anthropology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and lead author of the findings.

Haile-Selassie and a team of anthropologists and geologists report finding the partial skeleton of a foot that belonged to an early human ancestor that was neither Au. afarensis nor another hominin called Kenyanthropus platyops, a creature that some paleoanthropologists argue was a second hominin that lived at the same time as Au. afarensis.

The journal Nature published the finding today. The National Science Foundation's (NSF) Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences partially funded the research.

Descriptions of Kenyanthropus platyops led some scientists to dispute whether only one hominin inhabited Africa's upper regions 3.9 to 2.9 million years ago mainly due to the distorted nature of the specimen used as the basis for the original published description of Kenyanthropus platyops, said Haile-Selassie.

"Tim White, (a member of the research team who began uncovering Lucy in 1973), argued that Kenyanthropus platyops is a Kenyan version of Australopithecus afarensis and that the subtle differences between the two could be subsumed into an intra-specific variation."

In other words, he argued there was no evidence a second hominin roamed the landscape during the time of Au. afarensis. But Haile-Selassie and his team may have found proof of at least two hominin species.

In Woranso-Mille, a relatively new palaeontological site located in the central Afar region of Ethiopia, researchers dug up a 3.4 million year old partial foot skeleton that does not match the contemporaneous Au. afarensis in form or shape.

Moreover, the skeletal remains infer locomotor adaptations more similar to an earlier, 4.4 million year old hominin, Ardipithecus ramidus, that was discovered by a research team led by White in 1992-1993 in the Middle Awash valley in Ethiopia.

"The Burtele foot differs from Australopithecus afarensis largely by possessing an opposable great toe," said Haile-Selassie, noting the Burtele toe is more like that of Ardipithecus ramidus, inferring similar characteristics for walking, running and jumping.

"This partial pedal skeleton is unique in providing important evidence bearing on the functional morphology and proportions of several early hominin foot elements," the researchers write in their article titled, "A new hominin foot from Ethiopia shows multiple Pliocene bipedal adaptations."

Carolyn Ehardt, program director for Biological Anthropology at NSF, points out that research findings such as this foster appreciation for the complex processes that "shaped the evolutionary history of our species."

"We become increasingly aware of the fact that the evolutionary history of hominins is not unlike that of other groups of organisms in the potential for morphological and behavioral diversity and multiple adaptive pathways characterizing those life-forms during particular evolutionary time periods," she said.

The Burtele foot has some skeletal ratios that fall within the human and gorilla distribution, but outside those of chimpanzees. In addition, the metatarsal of the fourth toe is longer than that of the second toe, a condition seen in some monkeys and Miocene apes.

"Unfortunately this ratio is unknown for both Ardipithecus and Australopithecus," said Haile-Selassie. "But, the finding could indicate the primitive condition for the human family."

The researchers say identifying and naming the species to which the Burtele foot belongs will have to await recovery of more fossils, cranial and dental elements, for example. However, they are sure it does not belong to the species of Lucy, Au. afarensis.

Said Haile-Selassie, "It is probably descended from something like Ardipithecus ramidus."

Joining Haile-Selassie in this research are Beverly Z. Saylor and Bruce M. Latimer of Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio; Alan Deino of the Berkeley Geochronology Center, Berkeley, California; Naomi E. Levin of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and Mulugeta Alene of Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia.

In addition to NSF, the LSB Leakey Foundation, the National Geographic Society and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History supported this research.

Media Contacts
Bobbie Mixon, NSF (703) 292-8485 bmixon@nsf.gov
Glenda Bogar, Cleveland Museum of Natural History (216) 231-2071 gbogar@cmnh.org
Program Contacts
Carolyn Ehardt, NSF (703) 292-7850 cehardt@nsf.gov
Principal Investigators
Yohannes Haile-Selassie, Cleveland Museum of Natural History (216) 231-4600 yhailese@cmnh.org

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2012, its budget is $7.0 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives over 50,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,000 new funding awards. NSF also awards nearly $420 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

Bobbie Mixon | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nsf.gov

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology
22.06.2017 | Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft

nachricht How reliable are shells as climate archives?
21.06.2017 | Leibniz-Zentrum für Marine Tropenforschung (ZMT)

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

Im Focus: Optoelectronic Inline Measurement – Accurate to the Nanometer

Germany counts high-precision manufacturing processes among its advantages as a location. It’s not just the aerospace and automotive industries that require almost waste-free, high-precision manufacturing to provide an efficient way of testing the shape and orientation tolerances of products. Since current inline measurement technology not yet provides the required accuracy, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is collaborating with four renowned industry partners in the INSPIRE project to develop inline sensors with a new accuracy class. Funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the project is scheduled to run until the end of 2019.

New Manufacturing Technologies for New Products

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Hubble captures massive dead disk galaxy that challenges theories of galaxy evolution

22.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

New femto-camera with quadrillion fractions of a second resolution

22.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Rice U. chemists create 3-D printed graphene foam

22.06.2017 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>