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Oldest juvenile skeleton discovered will help piece together human development

, or shoulder blade, exhibits some gorilla-like features, Kimbel said. However, there continues to be debate about the interpretation of these features and what was the preferred mode of locomotion for this species.

Some researchers have argued that the ape-like features of the upper limb are just retained from a common ancestor, but are not functional, while others argue the features are functional and indicate that the species spent some time climbing trees.

"I don't think a 3-year-old adapted to bipedality is going to spend much time climbing in trees, but the mix of features in this skeleton is going to stir up the debate about locomotion in early Australopithecus," Kimbel said.

Alemseged uncovered a hyoid bone in the skeletal remains, which is the first time that bone has been discovered in the early part of the hominin fossil record. The hyoid bone is located in the larynx, or voice-box, and supports muscles of the throat and tongue involved in speech. The one discovered in the infant appeared to be primitive and more similar to hyoids found in apes than humans, according to Spoor, who has studied the evolution of this region in humans and other primates.

The findings are expected to provide insights into the growth and development cycle of Australopithecus afarensis since the infant remains will be compared to Lucy, a remarkably complete adult female skeleton which was among the first Australopithecus afarensis to be discovered. Lucy dates back 3.18 million years, and was discovered in 1974 in the Hadar region of Ethiopia by Donald Johanson, who directs ASU's Institute of Human Origins.

Understanding growth and development and how it has changed in human ancestry is central to the study of human evolution, Kimbel explained. He said that information about growth and development can help answer questions about the mechanisms that drove changes in body form that we see in the fossil record.

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Contact: Skip Derra
skip.derra@asu.edu
480-965-4823
Arizona State University
20-Sep-2006


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