Welcome to Ardi, a new member of our family!

October 1, 2009 • 10:14 am

by Matthew Cobb

It’s a big day for the evolution of our species! Tomorrow’s issue of Science contains 11 – yes eleven – papers describing the fossil skeleton of Ardipithecus ramidus, a hominid from 4.4 million years ago – the oldest such fossil ever found. As I write, the articles aren’t on line yet (and will probably require a subscription to read them completely), but the BBC and The Guardian both have substantial pieces on the discovery.


Briefly, a partial skeleton has been found of one female, together with bits and bobs of another 30 or so individuals,in Ethiopia. “Ardi”, as the female has been called, was about the same size and weight as a modern chimpanzee, but looked very different – many components (such as its hand) are more primitive than that of a chimpanzee,. This shows that the modern chimp hand is not the ancestral condition, but rather a highly evolved form.

Amazingly, the fossils were first found in the early 1990s, and it has taken 17 years to fully investigate them. It appears that Ardi could climb, but also walked on her knuckles [EDIT: no, she didn’t – she was BIPEDAL; mea culpa, and thanks to posters for pointing this out] walked on both legs; she ate fruit, plants and small mammals. Neither the males nor females had large canines – like us, but not like chimps. This suggests that strong male-male competition, which occurs in chimps, did not occur in our common ancestor.

However, despite the hype that will inevitably surround this amazing discovery (surely much more justified than the hoo-haa over Ida, the 47my old primate fossil), Ardi was not that common ancestor. Unfortunately, The Guardian calls her “our long lost mother”, but it is not yet clear exactly where she fits into our family tree. She may be an ancestor of Australopithecus – the species to which “Lucy” belonged.

The Guardian has this video snippet describing the discovery (upcoming from the Science website, I think) and this 10 minute MP3  file in which Tim White describes the link between Ardipthecus and the link with our last common ancestor with chimpanzees.

Now here’s a question – how will the creationists get out of this one?

EDIT: Science have just announced that all the papers, plus their magazine articles, will be available free here, later on today.

72 thoughts on “Welcome to Ardi, a new member of our family!

  1. “many components (such as its hand) are more primitive than that of a chimpanzee”

    I had thought human and chimpanzee hands were similar, and that therefore the common ancestor would have the same thing. Can someone explain how human and chimpanzee hands are different, and what is primitive about the hands on this fossil?

    1. For one thing, chimp hands have more curved shape, enabling better tree-climbing abilities. Lucy also did, to a lesser extent, indicating that she spent a lot of time in trees.

      I guess “primitive” in this case means “more like our remote (tree dwelling) ancestors”.

      I don’t know anything about Ardi’s hands.

    2. Also, he hands of the Great Apes are designed for walking on the knuckles, and you can tell from the bones that they were used that way. Their wrists are also less flexible. Ardi’s hands were not designed to be used for walking on, and neither are ours.

  2. This is really neat.

    “Now here’s a question – how will the creationists get out of this one?”

    As with Lucy,
    “Above the waist: of ape kind.”
    “Below the waist: of human kind”

    Yes, faith is needed to hold the two halves together. If it made sense, we wouldn’t need faith.

    Snarking aside: I saw the Lucy remains last year in Houston. I hope one day we have a similar exhibit for this species.

  3. “how will the creationists get out of this one?”

    Isn’t that predictable? By a combination of lies, distortion and ignorance! There’s no reason to assume they will change their usual tactics for this one!

  4. The Creationists will find a way to make excuses for this find. They’ll declare it a hoax, or decide it’s entirely human, or entirely ape; or they’ll simply ignore it.

    No amount of evidence will convince these people—more drastic action is needed.

    1. Why the jab at the creationists? They have a right to believe as they choose, their opinion has no bearing on what is true or what isn’t about his find.

      Besides the difference between a human and animal is the human has a soul. Doesn’t matter is is we looked like monkeys or not we became humans when we were given souls.

      1. Creationists already have spewed their hate and inane nonsense about this discovery. Since they can’t keep their delusional minds private, jabs at them are the right tactic.

        Show us some evidence of your fictitious ‘soul’. We are skeptical that you can. If you can’t show us then keep your opinion to yourself.

    1. The larger science article also says that she definitely didn’t knuckle-walk, the wrists are too flexible and fragile.

      Am I the only one who finds it amusing that the person who wrote the article is named “Ann Gibbons”?

      1. Thanks for pointing out the misteak, TheBlackCat. I have now corrected the post to say that she was bipedal…


  5. Now here’s a question – how will the creationists get out of this one?

    The same way they always do. “It’s the same ‘kind’ as a chimp. So was ‘Lucy’. Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalensis were of the same ‘kind’ as humans.” Never mind the continuity. That’s all a big cosmic joke (to temp our faith, I suppose).

  6. NY Times covered it too, FYI


    “How will creationists get out of this one?”

    That queston reminded me that I wanted to see what ICR and AiG posted about the pre-archaeopteryx Anchiornis from last week…

    As for possibilities on this one:
    1. Remember Piltdown Man!
    2. Definitely an Ape
    3. Definitely a Human
    4. Modern human skeletons from the same site, so it lived at same time and was not an ancestor (Java man argument)
    5. I’m sure there are others but that’s all the time I want to spend in the mind of the creationist.

  7. Wouldn’t call the old gal “new.”

    I wonder if she’d approve of us, or would we be those young upstarts?

    She’d whack the creationists for not only neglecting, but even denying, their family connections. The IDCists she’d whack for claiming that any more magic than sex was needed for silly hairless apes to show up.

    Glen Davidson

  8. I predict that over at UD, Denyse O’ Leary will be all over the “long lost mother” angle and decry this as another example of the Darwinian spin machine in action. She’ll ignore the fact that the primary papers themselves don’t make such claims and instead focus on the sensational press headlines. Count down in 3, 2, 1 …

  9. I read this article over at the Reason project. It is fascinating, especially where they state that the chimpanzee line had apparently either added or deleted features from the split with hominids. Another piece of evidence of a common ancestor that is not a chimpanzee ‘clone’.

    Further work on this will be illuminating.

  10. Well, I prayed on it and it was revealed to me that she is in fact Ardi, Noah’s second cousin on his mothers side. The one they don’t talk about.
    She had to walk all the way back from Ararat to Ethiopia because the dino she rode in on was missing.

    1. Nope. Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives were the only humans on the ark. Therefore, Ardi was definitely an ape “kind.”

    1. That RR thread is a hoot — or rather, it would be if they weren’t serious adults who hold some measure of influence in society.

      My favourite comment so far:
      “It looks like nothing more than a very old gorilla. Perhaps a type that when extinct centuries ago. Do these scientists ever think of that?”

      Well, did you? ;^)

    1. Wait a second.
      How can a skull wear glasses?
      My spectacles are balanced on my nose and held on by my ears – which do tend to be missing in most skulls.
      Maybe he means a monocle?

      1. No, he means glasses. Follow the link I supplied, and see his pictures. You have to scroll down a bit, past a lot of other nonsense.

        Warning: watching this could cause pain in your stomach from uncontrollable fits of laughter.

      2. WTF!
        Drosera, you are quite correct, that is hilarious.
        On the other hand we now see the reason why the Taung child was such easy prey for the eagle that killed it – his eyesight was clearly hampered due to the fact that he was wearing glasses that wouldn’t look out of place on Elton John, circa his ‘Pinball Wizard’ period.

    2. Re. the glasses, crimony, naturally. But that link led me to his main site http://ianjuby.org/newsletter/ where my attention was drawn to something about isolation of bacteria in the late 1980s from 120y/o corpses frozen in the Arctic from the Franklin Expedition, which were resistant to certain antibiotics that are only 40y/o, thereby – whoosh – disproving evolution of antibiotic resistance.

      Digging into it just a bit deeper, it seems that this is a mantra example of creationaries. The investigator mentioned is one K Kowalewska-Grochowska , but searching Kowalewska-Grochowska franklin, I only find creationary references, and just searching Kowalewska-Grochowska I don’t see any relevant peer-reviewed citations.
      This seems to be something that got some attention in newspapers at the time, and presumably was derailed when it was found that the bacteria are species that are resistant to said antibiotics even now. Still, I didn’t see any references to such derailment. Most likely it just died a quiet scientific death on that account, if it even made it as far as a submission to peer-review. But since it lives on in references to old newspaper articles, if anyone can add to that, please do.

      (NB: I fully admit that what searching I did was just a quick skim.)

      1. I just did a quick search (can you tell I’m easily distracted today, this is my 4th or 5th comment in this thread) in ISI Web of Science. I found one reference in the entire thing where Kowalewska-Grochowska is 5th author.

        Tracz DM, Keelan M, Ahmed-Bentley J, Gibreel A, Kowalewska-Grochowska K, Taylor DE 2005. pVir and bloody diarrhea in Campylobacter jejuni enteritis

        I’ll spare you the abstract, but pVir is a plasmid that confers virulence to that bacterial species. There is a side part of the study that shows that this plasmid co-occurs with a tet-R plasmid, but does NOT transfer to recipient bacterial strains along with the tet-R plasma.

        Oh, you said *relevant* citations… 🙂

      2. Great literature searching, KP, and a perfect summary in your last line!

        I wonder if K-G is aware of which circles her(?) name seems most widely circulated in?

      3. I am — sorry to say — the author of the original Medical Tribune article (1988) on the Franklin expedition. I can not believe that my work lives on in a (still) growing body of anti-Evolution websites. I seem to be depicted in hundreds of postings (including a Sean Hannity blog post!) as the source of scientific proof of Creationism.

        There is a news story, just today, on a new report from the American Society of Microbiology that details our changing understanding of resistance. http://bit.ly/1xqX49 I encourage interested people to download the pdf. Meanwhile, I am sure I can not stop the viral spread of my 1988 reporting (well out of context, of course), but I’d appreciate any ideas/suggestions.

        Rick McGuire

  11. What I found most interesting was actually the feet, where four of the toes are reinforced and rigid like ours but the “thumb” is still opposable.

  12. You have all missed the obvious answer to how creationists will “get out of this one.” Whenever a gap in the fossil record of a lineage is filled, two new gaps are created for cretins – ‘scuse me, I meant for creationists to complain about: This find creates two new gaps in the fossil record – the gap between Ardi & Lucy and the gap between Ardi and whatever came before Ardi.

  13. Maybe Ardi wasn’t on the Ark itself, but was in the lifeboat that was being towed behind the Ark.

    The real question is whether Ardi will be able to beat out Ida on Dancing with the Stars.

    1. Nope. I’m changing my story to: she was an ape “kind” buried in the giant sediment dump that was carried by the Flood.

      Can I have a job at the Creation Museum yet?

  14. It’s funny that you called Ardi “a new member of our family” when she’s in fact the oldest member of our family that we know of. Lol, we’re actually the newest members of her family lol.

  15. “Now here’s a question – how will the creationists get out of this one?”

    Same as always. Ignore facts. Make stuff up. Repeat half-truths and outright fibs. Pound straw-men. Claim victory and then run away and disable comments on their blogs.

  16. Unfortunately, my cynical view is that the creationists will pull a Behe, that is, dismiss the findings as unsubstantial, a piffle. They’ll call into question the incomplete skeleton and cast doubt on the “remains” of the other individuals.

    Of course, creationists do no research of their own, nor were they involved in the decade of work reconstructing the fossils, but that doesn’t matter.

    Just as Luskin pronounced Lucy “simply another monkey” that’s all the creationists will have to offer.

    Sort of like real monkeys flinging poo at the zoo. Ironic.

  17. How will creationists get out of this one?

    The more fossils are found, the more ‘gaps’ there are.

    (Sorry, in the middle of reading ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ right now – this was Dawkins’ take on it.)

  18. This is a remarkable discovery. I’ve just finished reading (for the first quick take) WEIT, and it is quite astonishing how quickly these things happen, and the number of early hominid ancestors is added to. I look forward to trying to read some of the papers that have been so generously made public.

    I suppose creationists could deal with the existence of Ardi in several ways. They could say that this simply opens up more gaps in the fossil record – though that is getting a bit stale. But they could say, in good Humean fashion, that God kept trying to make the intelligent being that would be able to know and love him, but simply botched the job, and only succeeded after he had tried several different models! In any event, since they manage to accommodate the other fossils in arbitrary ways, they surely won’t have trouble here, unless, of course, Ardi passes the ocular test. Now there’s a connundrum. Or will they just say that the occular test really doesn’t prove anything, once they find out that Ardi could have worn specs? Since reason is not a priority with them, I guess it won’t much matter either way. The Bible will still turn out to have been true, whatever the conclusions about Ardi. That’s the wonderful nature of being sure.

    1. The creationist paradigm is that God created many different animals – poofed them into existence, out of nothing. If you treat this as a historical fact then one would expect there to be many fossils of these animals awaiting discovery. Creationists refuse to countenance the scientific explanation and so have no real competing expanation in their mind to cause problems. In fact the discovery of every new fossil is simply evidence of God in his wisdom and power having created another animal.
      Having said that I dread to think what explanation Ray Comfort is going to come up with. I suspect that it will be something along the line of the fossil showing a one legged female. In order for evolution to be true we would need a one legged male at the same time point who mated with the one legged female and produced a two legged child. Where are the fossils of the male and child?

      1. Here are some of the things Ray Comfort said on his blog:

        “They say Ardi is 4.4 million years old and you believe them. I don’t have that sort of faith. I need hard evidence, and I have it in Christianity. I know where we came from (on the highest Authority), I know why we are here and I know where I am going after death.

        No one needs to misrepresent the findings of these learned Berkeley folks. No one needs to because they don’t have any empirical evidence. It’s a “faith” matter, and it’s hard to argue with the sort of devotion that evolutionists have. Besides, I have more important things to do.”

        So, having faith is evidence, and having evidence is faith.

        1984, anyone?

        He also brags that he is about to distribute 175,000 copies of his ‘special edition’ of TOS. I wonder if these will still include the plagiarized Darwin biography and the mistranslated Hitler quotes.

  19. That one’s easy – the creationists simply trot out the Piltdown man and claim that all evilutionists are liars (while creatards are free to lie for jeezus because they’re his special sheep).

    4.4 million years for a long forgotten relative – and yet there are so many similarities to the human skeleton that I can’t help thinking we hadn’t come that far in 4.4 million years.

  20. Up until just recently, evolutionists would be hurling insults as to why we evolved from apes. Now, you find that we didn’t really evolve from apes, but some “common ancestor.”

    Come on. You want to know how we’ll get out of this one; proof.

    1. Re Steve

      Mr. Steve is totally full of crap. What evolutionary biologists say is that modern apes, including gorillas, orangs, chimps, and humans had a common ancestor that disappeared some 6 million years ago. That common ancestor was, itself, a primitive ape.

  21. I don’t se why creationsist such as ME have to get out of anything when the article says this:

    “Ardi is the earliest and best-documented descendant of that common ancestor. But despite being “so close to the split,” says White, the surprising thing is that she bears little resemblance to chimpanzees, our closest living primate relatives. The elusive common ancestor’s bones have never been found,

    We know these FACTS as creationists and they will never be found.

    “but scientists, working from the evidence available ”especially analyses of Australopithecus and modern African apes” envisioned Great-Great-Grandpa to have looked most nearly like a knuckle-walking, tree-swinging ape. But “[Ardi is] not chimplike,” according to White, which means that the last common ancestor probably wasn’t either.

    What is there to explain here?

    “This skeleton flips our understanding of human evolution,” says Kent State University anthropologist C. Owen Lovejoy, a member of the Middle Awash team. “It’s clear that humans are not merely a slight modification of chimps, despite their genomic similarity.”

    It’s what creationists already know too.

    So what does that mean? Based on Ardi’s anatomy, it appears that chimpanzees may actually have evolved more than humans” in the scientific sense of having changed more over the past 7 million years or so.

    OK, the only problem I see here is that if you believe in 10,000 year creation you’re introuble, you’ll also have problems with all that happened on the 6th day too…but other than that, what would I have to “get out of” It’s clear, the finding proves that there has been no discovery of any human transitional and that human and chimps weren’t as closely related as people thought

    One thing about evolution…it’ll all change in a minute or whenever it’s convenient.

    In addition one commentor said:The creationist paradigm is that God created many different animals – poofed them into existence, out of nothing.

    Now doesn’t that meat all…The evolutions would have to believe that inert and nonliving matter gave rise to living cells…wherever that matter comes from I guess is aside from the point…my goodness…they were right it takes more faith NOT to believe in creation and god than it does to follow that garbage.

    1. You ‘know’ nothing.

      I laugh at your ignorant rants:

      Now doesn’t that meat all…

      The evolutions would have to…

      Get some real education and try to use logic and common sense.

      1. Let’s see now, according to the good pastor, not only are all the worlds biologists wrong, but all the worlds physicists, geologists, and astronomers are also wrong about the earth being more then 10,000 years old (actually, I thought, according to Bishop Ussher, that it was 6000 years old). It’s quite amazing that someone as ignorant as the good pastor who has evidenced not a jot or a tittle of expertise in any of these areas can so confidently speak with such authority from such a vast fund of ignorance.

    1. I got my answer, he’s probably fine with this video.

      Dr. Lovejoy is claiming that Ardi is a hominid, but man did not evolve from apes. See this PR release from his school quoting him.

      I sent an email requesting clarification given Lovejoy is either contradicting himself in his own school’s press release or claiming that hominids should no longer be part of the super-family Hominoidea (nickname for apes).

  22. Well I presume some would call me a creatioinist because I know/believe/have faith that my Heavenly Father used the laws of science to create the world. I find the existence of Ardi facinating and know that we are all entitled to our opinions, beliefs, thoughts and surmizes (not including the scientist that brought all this to our attention; his beliefs and thoughts are, I’m sure, well documented and should not in anyway be included in the ‘surmizes’ category). Is there any way that we can ‘know’ that Ardi was covered with hair? I’ve always wondered how we got ‘covering’ on a skeleton. Should probably look that up but I’m busy with Math, Biology, Geology and Chemistry currently … so anyone want to take that specific question on? I’m an unemployed teacher trying to increase my endorsements from Agriculture Science to include Math Science and Biology so I will be sure and pass any wisdom on to prospective students.

    1. Why don’t you use your “know/believe/have” to figure it out? It must show you evidence, right?

      Just think real hard and pray. Isn’t that how it works?

  23. Ginny

    So, you “know/believe/have faith that [your] Heavenly Father used the laws of science to create the world?”

    How do you “know” this? Can you prove this? Until you can, you are not qualified to pass your “wisdom on to prospective students.”

  24. “It’s clear, the finding proves that there has been no discovery of any human transitional and that human and chimps weren’t as closely related as people thought”
    Well this answers the question of how creationists will deal with the evidence. Pastor Burnett’s fellow fundamentalists on Al-Jazeeera have meanwhile announced that the findings prove that man and chimps are not related and that it shows that the theory of evolution has been completely disproven!

  25. Alot of replys with low IQ’S.Try asking yourself questions instead of relying on what you want to beleive to be true which came from someone you want to listen to.Ask yourself how is it possible that man came from nothing and why is it not happening now??? over 6 billion people on earth and we all evolved at the same pace??? how is that possible??? Millions of years of evolution and decades of looking for missing links and all we find is 2 or 3 pills of bones that someone tells you is old because of carbon dating.Carbon dating is not accurate, research it.Don’t you think we should have millions of different stages of Missing Links??????? And if evolution is real why do we need reproductive organs when we can just EVOLVE?????Choke on those questions!!!!!

    1. Oh dear, I think it would take ‘us’ (humans and apes) to evolve into something else entirely before we would come anywhere close to changing the minds of the creatists. One has to consider the reasons why they believe the way they do – it is a coping mechanism, they cannot bear the thought that they are simply the result of an accident. “There has to be a grand plan, otherwise why am I here?” I’m much too important to be a mere animal, look at how much more I can do – kill, pollute, abuse my offspring, spread manmade diseases, wipe out the other inhabitants of this planet, and it goes on and on…..

  26. Ok, I guess I don’t understand, you can look at this image of ardi and not see a ape, why do you assume we came from this, also does not the idea of evolution state that something evolves over years to be something else, if that is true why is there humans now and apes at the same time, it would seem that with evolution they both would not exist at the same time.

  27. If I may suggest:

    – Post pictures of what is the actual fossil, so people can see it

    – Kindly ask the artist how did he know how to fill the voids in the fossil (small items such as the spinal cord, long bones, pelvis – which is actually just a mess of crushed and deformed fragments – etc.) to arrive at his wonderful drawing, since obviously there is NO model from which to infer that knowledge.

    Just asking, so people may think by themselves. Thanks.

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