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Questions raised about 'Ardi' as man's ancestor

• Esteban Sarmiento says Ardi’s features of teeth, the skull and elsewhere that the researchers cited just don’t make a convincing case for membership on the human branch.  • Tim White says if Ardi was ancestral to chimps, features like its teeth, pelvis, and skull would have had to later evolve back to their more ape-like conditions, an “evolutionary reversal that’s highly unlikely.”

Science artist rendering

• Esteban Sarmiento says Ardi’s features of teeth, the skull and elsewhere that the researchers cited just don’t make a convincing case for membership on the human branch. • Tim White says if Ardi was ancestral to chimps, features like its teeth, pelvis, and skull would have had to later evolve back to their more ape-like conditions, an “evolutionary reversal that’s highly unlikely.”

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Is 'Ardi' on our family tree?

Last fall, a fossil skeleton named "Ardi" shook up the field of human evolution. Now, some scientists are raising doubts about what exactly the creature from Ethiopia was and what kind of landscape it inhabited.

New critiques question whether Ardi really belongs on the human branch of the evolutionary tree and whether it really lived in woodlands. That second question has implications for theories about what kind of environment spurred early human evolution.

The work is being published by the journal Science, which last year declared the original presentation of the 4.4 million-year-old fossil to be the magazine's breakthrough of the year.

Ardi, short for Ardipithecus ramidus, is a million years older than the famous "Lucy" fossil. Last October, it was hailed as a window on early human evolution.

Researchers concluded that "Ardi" walked upright rather than on its knuckles like chimps, for example, and that it lived in woodlands rather than open grasslands. It didn't look much like today's chimps, our closest living relatives.

Esteban Sarmiento of the Human Evolution Foundation in East Brunswick, N.J., wrote in the new analysis that he's not convinced Ardi belongs on the evolutionary tree branch leading to modern humans. He thinks it came along earlier, before that human branch split off from the ancestors of chimps and gorillas.

Tim White of the University of California at Berkeley, one of the scientists who described Ardi last year in Science, said he isn't surprised by this week's debate. "Any time you have something that is as different as Ardi, you're probably going to have it," he said, adding that he disagreed with Sarmiento's conclusions.

Questions raised about 'Ardi' as man's ancestor 05/27/10 [Last modified: Thursday, May 27, 2010 10:12pm]

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