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  • Scientific American Instant Egghead

  • Who was the first human ancestor?

  • Well, we know 30,000 years ago

  • our ancestors were making early cave paintings.

  • About 60,000 years ago, some were migrating out of Africa.

  • Even before that, some of our recent ancestors,

  • like Homo erectus, were chipping away at stone tools.

  • And, going back much further,

  • we were swinging around in trees like chimps, right?

  • The idea of humans evolving from a chimp-like ancestor

  • has pervaded scientific thought since the time of Charles Darwin.

  • And given 6 to 10 million years, it seems at least plausible

  • that we could have evolved from wild apes into our current, refined selves.

  • But, new fossil evidence suggests

  • we didn't come from chimps any more than they came from us.

  • Let's start with the classic hominid ancestor, Lucy.

  • She lived about 3.2 million years ago and she looks

  • like she could have evolved from an animal resembling a chimp.

  • But a newly-described hominin, nick-named Ardi, is a million years older.

  • Given that she is older than Lucy,

  • it stands to reason that she should look more like a chimp.

  • But, she doesn't entirely fit the bill.

  • Although she lived part of the time in the trees,

  • she could probably walk upright.

  • And when she was down on all fours,

  • she would've padded around on the palm of her hand

  • rather than on her knuckles like chimps do.

  • So, if our forebearers didn't look like chimps,

  • did they look like Ardi?

  • Um, well...maybe not.

  • Just last year, scientists discovered eight fossil bones of a strange foot.

  • This foot looked an awful lot like Ardi's foot

  • and had a sideways pointing big toe for climbing trees.

  • The only problem is the owner lived at the same time as Lucy.

  • This suggests that Ardi could be

  • on an entirely separate line from Lucy's and ours.

  • So, who were the first human ancestors?

  • Were they Lucy's, Ardi's, or what?

  • The short answer is, it's complicated and we might never know.

  • Unfortunately, the more fossils we find, the bushier our family tree becomes.

  • For Scientific American's Instant Egghead, I'm Katherine Harmon.

Scientific American Instant Egghead

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Who Was the First Human Ancestor? - Instant Egghead #31

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    joey joey posted on 2021/05/15
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