The Oldest ‘Human’ Relative Yet Discovered

“Missing link” is really the wrong term to use for this newly-announced fossil discovery (it implies a single link between humans and their ape-like ancestors, when the truth is far more complex and fluid), but if it will set creationists’ heads spinning I’ll accept it: Oldest ‘Human’ Skeleton Found — Disproves ‘Missing Link’.

Scientists today announced the discovery of the oldest fossil skeleton of a human ancestor. The find reveals that our forebears underwent a previously unknown stage of evolution more than a million years before Lucy, the iconic early human ancestor specimen that walked the Earth 3.2 million years ago.

The centerpiece of a treasure trove of new fossils, the skeleton—assigned to a species called Ardipithecus ramidus—belonged to a small-brained, 110-pound (50-kilogram) female nicknamed “Ardi.” (See pictures of Ardipithecus ramidus.)

The fossil puts to rest the notion, popular since Darwin’s time, that a chimpanzee-like missing link—resembling something between humans and today’s apes—would eventually be found at the root of the human family tree. Indeed, the new evidence suggests that the study of chimpanzee anatomy and behavior—long used to infer the nature of the earliest human ancestors—is largely irrelevant to understanding our beginnings.

Ardi instead shows an unexpected mix of advanced characteristics and of primitive traits seen in much older apes that were unlike chimps or gorillas (interactive: Ardi’s key features). As such, the skeleton offers a window on what the last common ancestor of humans and living apes might have been like.

Further reading at Science Magazine:
Online Extras: Ardipithecus ramidus

UPDATE at 10/1/09 8:19:36 pm:

And sure enough, here comes the dimmest bulb in the Discovery Institute’s pack of low-wattage frauds and charlatans, Casey Luskin, doing his best to keep the gullible in a state of ignorance: Evolution News & Views: Bones of ‘Ardi,’ New Human Evolution Fossil, “Crushed Nearly to Smithereens”.

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