“I AM AN APE-MAN”
THE EARLIER AUSTRALOPITHECINES
4.0-2.5 million years ago
|Reconstruction of the face of Australopithecus afarensis, about 3 million years old. Credit: Illustration by John Sibbick, courtesy of John Sibbick Illustration. This illustration used with permission. All rights reserved.|
The “classic” ape-men, members of the genus Australopithecus, were first discovered and described in the 1920’s in South Africa. Since then, many more sites in South Africa and in the East African Rift have yielded remains of these small-brained (c. 450 cc), upright-walking creatures, the most famous being “Lucy” discovered at Hadar in Ethiopia. These so-called “ape-men” show some features that are ape-like such as a small brain, a jutting lower face, large canines, and curved phalanges (finger and toe bones), along with more human-like traits such as a broad pelvis, an angled knee joint, and jaws and teeth adapted for chewing side-to-side.
Several species are known, including Australopithecus anamensis and Australopithecus afarensis, and Australopithecus garhi in East Africa and Australopithecus afarensis in South Africa. Males may have been twice the size of females, a pattern seen today in baboons and gorillas. The skeleton of these creatures bear the hallmarks of upright walking, and the famous fossilized hominin footprints in volcanic ash dating to 3.5 million years ago at Laetoli, Tanzania are dramatic evidence of this bipedality.
|Reconstruction of Australopithecus afarensis.
Credit: Photo by User: 1997, courtesy of Wikimedia.
HOW DO WE KNOW?
Hundreds of fossils of early australopithecines have been found at well-dated sites in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Chad, and South Africa. These fossils indicate upright-walking forms, with a combination of ape and human characteristics.
WHY SHOULD I CARE?
Some of these early australopithecines were your direct ancestors. They represent a crucial phase in human evolution, intermediate between arboreal apes and terrestrial humans.
This website has a lot of information about Australopithecines.
This is another good site for australopithecines.
This is also a comprehensive web site about Australopithecines.