The skull of Australopithecus child from Ethiopia (Copyright: National Museum of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa)
Read aloud An international research team has discovered the skeleton of a child in northeastern Ethiopia, which, like the famous "Lucy" belonged to the Vormenscheart Australopithecus afarensis. The bones of the estimated three-year-old girl at the time of death are about 3.3 million years old and thus the oldest known child bones at all. With skull, torso and large parts of the limbs, the skeleton is not only almost complete, but even contains bones such as the hyoid bone, whose appearance was previously unknown in early humans. The extraordinary find not only helps to better characterize Australopithecus afarensis, it also sheds new light on early human development. The researchers estimate that the child was about three years old when he died is mainly based on the condition of the bit. The deciduous teeth, of which all but two were preserved, were already present, and some of the permanent teeth are already created within the skull. The brain volume of the girl, the researchers can estimate well: It corresponds to 275 to 330 cubic centimeters about that of a three-year-old chimpanzee. However, the brain seems to have developed much slower in A. afarensis than in the apes, write the researchers. While the child's brain is only between 63 and 88 percent adult-sized, a chimpanzee the same age already has over 90 percent.

As with previous A. afarensis findings, does the heel and heel of the child resemble those of modern humans? according to the researchers, a clear indication that the early humans were already upright. However, shoulders and fingers do not quite fit. The shoulders are similar to those of a gorilla, and the only remaining finger is clearly curved, as is the case with chimpanzees. This suggests that despite his ability to walk upright, A. afarensis climbed trees and possibly sought protection from enemies.

The excavation of the skeleton, which was found at the bottom of the mouth of a former river in the Dikika region, lasted a good four years. The extremely good condition of the bones makes it seem likely that the child was buried shortly before his death, probably during a flood, under sand, the researchers said. This sand solidified over time and became massive sandstone, which the scientists laboriously had to remove from the bones? a work that has not been completed until today. From the complete exposure of the bones anthropologists hope for more information about the life and development of A. afarensis.

Zeresenay Alemseged (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig) et al .: Nature, Vol. 443, p. 296 ddp / science.de? Ilka Lehnen-Beyel advertisement

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