Scientists today announced the discovery of the skeleton of Ardipithecus ramidus, nicknamed "Ardi," the oldest species of hominid ever found. The most complete skeleton of some 30 of these pre-human ancestors discovered was a female who lived approximately 4.4 million years ago in what is present-day Ethiopia. Ardipithecus ramidus isn't the so-called "missing link" - the species from which both humans and apes are presumed to have evolved - but it is the closest science has yet come to fully learning about the evolution of apes and man.
The fossil records show that Ardi walked upright, which is a surprise to those in the scientific community, who generally believed that our shared ancestor would have been much closer in characteristics to apes than hominids. Ardi demonstrates that apes and humans have evolved along different lines for far longer than was previously thought.
This announcement is the result of a 17-year investigation - the first A. ramidus fossils were unearthed in 1992. Years of painstaking cleaning, skeleton restoration, and study were necessary before scientists at U.C. Berkeley could make this determination.
Fascinating stuff. These big discoveries in human evolution are always intriguing and this seems like the biggest one in a long, long time - since Lucy herself.