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Lucy was found by Donald Johanson and Tom Gray on November 24, 1974, at the site of Hadar in Ethiopia. They had taken a Land Rover out that day to map in another locality. After a long, hot morning of mapping and surveying for fossils, they decided to head back to the vehicle. Johanson suggested taking an alternate route back to the Land Rover, through a nearby gully. Within moments, he spotted a right proximal ulna (forearm bone) and quickly identified it as a hominid. Shortly thereafter, he saw an occipital (skull) bone, then a femur, some ribs, a pelvis, and the lower jaw. Two weeks later, after many hours of excavation, screening, and sorting, several hundred fragments of bone had been recovered, representing 40 percent of a single hominid skeleton.
The term hominid refers to a member of the zoological family Hominidae. Hominidae encompasses all species originating after the human/African ape ancestral split, leading to and including all species of Australopithecus and Homo. While these species differ in many ways, hominids share a suite of characteristics that define them as a group. The most conspicuous of these traits is bipedal locomotion, or walking upright.
Although several hundred fragments of hominid bone were found at the Lucy site, there was no duplication of bones. A single duplication of even the most modest of bone fragments would have disproved the single skeleton claim, but no such duplication is seen in Lucy. The bones all come from an individual of a single species, a single size, and a single developmental age. In life, she would have stood about three-and-a-half feet tall, and weighed about 60 to 65 pounds.
In Thailand, long-tailed macaque monkeys (shown pounding open oil palm nuts with rocks) inadvertently bash off pieces of stone, raising questions about whether some of the earliest known hominid tools were made on purpose.
Monkeys in southern Thailand use rocks to pound open oil palm nuts, inadvertently shattering stone pieces off their makeshift nutcrackers. These flakes resemble some sharp-edged stone tools presumed to have been created on purpose by ancient hominids, researchers say.
Some differences do exist between macaque and hominid stone flakes, says Proffitt, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. For instance, many macaque flakes display battering damage on only one side, versus frequent two-sided damage on hominid artifacts.
IN FOR A POUND A capuchin monkey in Brazil uses a handheld stone to hammer an embedded rock. Researchers say these wild primates unintentionally detach pieces of rock shaped like basic hominid stone tools, raising questions about how toolmaking evolved.
Mr. Taylor writes about the Great Ape Project's campaign to win fundamental rights for all hominids with New Zealand's Animal Welfare Act. While the Act was a significant step in the struggle for hominids' rights, larger steps, including a Nonhuman Hominid Protection Bill, will soon follow.
Nearly 17 years after plucking the fossilized tooth of a new human ancestor from a pebbly desert in Ethiopia, an international team of scientists today (Thursday, Oct. 1) announced their reconstruction of a partial skeleton of the hominid, Ardipithecus ramidus, which they say revolutionizes our understanding of the earliest phase of human evolution.
The female skeleton, nicknamed Ardi, is 4.4 million years old, 1.2 million years older than the skeleton of Lucy, or Australopithecus afarensis, the most famous and, until now, the earliest hominid skeleton ever found. Hominids are all fossil species closer to modern humans than to chimps and bonobos, which are our closest living relatives.
"This is the oldest hominid skeleton on Earth," said Tim White, University of California, Berkeley, professor of integrative biology and one of the co-directors of the Middle Awash Project, a team of 70 scientists that reconstructed the skeleton and other fossils found with it. "This is the most detaile