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Unearthing man's ancestors

Latest fossil find suggests our long-lost ancestors may have walked upright nearly 6 million years ago

press release | news clips | slide show

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UC Berkeley doctoral candidate Yohannes Haile-Selassie examines the tooth of Ardipithecus ramidus kadabba, recently discovered in Ethiopia and thought to be man's earliest known ancestor at 5.7 million years. Copyright 1999 Tim D. White \ Brill Atlanta


Map showing where UC Berkeley team discovered man's earliest ancestor yet.
The first humans to emerge may be about 1 million years older than anthropologists had previously thought. Last week's discovery of fossilized teeth, toe, collar, hand and jaw bones - made by an international team of paleoanthropologists, including UC Berkeley graduate student Yohannes Haile-Selassie and UC Berkeley paleoanthropologist Tim White - appears to belong to the oldest human ancestor ever unearthed.

Dated at about 5.8 million years old, the fossils were discovered in a parched rockscape in Ethiopia's Middle Awash region, about 140 miles northeast of the capital city of Addis Ababa and just 50 miles south of Lucy's home, inhabited by the infamous 3.2 million-year-old hominid.

There's a new twist to the story of humanity's birth, though, as reported in the July 12 issue of Nature and in a second, previously published Nature article coauthored by Los Alamos National Laboratory research geologist Giday WoldeGabriel. Given the paleoclimate of the region 5.5 million years ago - now thought to have been a lush, forested stretch of land fed by large lakes and plentiful rainfall - scientists are suggesting that early humans may have come out of the trees to walk upright for a different reason: to get to the next tree, rather than to cover more ground expeditiously in search of food.

UC Berkeley press release

Ethiopian find shows human ancestors walked upright nearly 6 million years ago
(press release, 11 July)

Selected news clips about the Ethiopian discovery

One Giant Step for Mankind
(Time Magazine, July 23)

Fossils Retrace Man's History Over 5 million Years
(, July 11)

Cal Scholar's Team Says It Found Oldest Humanlike Fossil
(San Francisco Chronicle, July 12)

Slide Show
Images from the Ethiopian site


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