Fossil Hominids

Paleontologists and anthropologists (scientists who study humans) have unearthed sufficient fossil evidence to conclude that a variety of humanlike species lived on Earth within the past 10 million years. However, scientists continue to investigate and debate hypotheses about the evolutionary relationships among all known hominids. Even the species name of some fossils is a matter of debate.

One important fossil discovery was made in 1974 in the Afar Valley region of Africa by Donald Johanson and colleagues. The 3.2 million-year-old fossilized skeleton, shown in Figure 43-19, was of an anthropoid primate with the brain size of a chimpanzee. But the skeletal structure clearly showed that this organism was bipedal.

Australopithecines

Johanson and colleagues gave the new fossil the species name Australopithecus afarensis and the nickname "Lucy." Additional fossils of the same species have been discovered in other parts of Africa and date from about 2.5 million to 4 million years ago. A number of fossil organisms similar to Lucy have been classified as species of the genus Australopithecus within the subfamily of australopithecines (AW-struh-loh-PITH-uh-SEENZ), which may include other genera.

Word Roots and Origins anthropoid from the Greek anthropos, meaning "man," and eidos, meaning "shape"

figure 43-19

The original fossil find of Australopithecus afarensis consisted of a partial skeleton. The team of investigators who discovered it nicknamed the fossil "Lucy."

figure 43-19

The original fossil find of Australopithecus afarensis consisted of a partial skeleton. The team of investigators who discovered it nicknamed the fossil "Lucy."

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