Fossil baby found, according to BBC News, and every other popular media service following a report in Nature vol. 443, p296, 21 September 2006 which describes the finding of bones of a juvenile Australopithecus afarensis. The bones include a skull, shoulder bones, some ribs and vertebrae, fragments of arm and leg bones and the hyoid bone – a small fragile bone at the base of the tongue. A CT (x-ray) scan on the skull shows un-erupted ape-like teeth, indicating an age of approximately 3 years old. The leg bones indicate it could have walked upright, but the scapulae (shoulder blades) are like those of a gorilla and the finger bones are curved like those of tree-dwelling apes. The hyoid bone is described by the researchers who studied it as being of “typical African ape morphology”. The brain size is estimated at 330 cubic cm – similar to that of a chimpanzee of the same age. This is between 68% and 88% of the adult brain size for an Australopithecine – indicating a slower growth of the brain than a chimpanzee. A three year old chimp has a brain 90% of adult size. The bones were embedded in sandstone dated as 3.3 million years old, along with numerous other mammals, reptiles and some fish. The researchers who found the bones suggest they were rapidly buried in flood.
Editorial Comment: Many popular media reports such as evolutionary icon National Geographic, called this a “fossil child” and a human ancestor, just as they have done for the most famous fossil of the same genus, named “Lucy”, (and another adult) found April 2006. The new find certainly provides evidence the fossils brain growth may have been slower than that of living apes, indicating an extended childhood, and the legs of the new fossil indicate it could have walked upright, (although the pelvis is needed to confirm this). However, these things merely show that Australopithecines had some differences to living apes. It is no proof that apes evolved into people. If a fossil creature has ape shaped shoulder and finger bones, an apelike skull with ape shaped teeth and an ape sized brain, plus a hyoid bone with “typical African ape morphology,” then it is an ape. The professional scientists who studied it gave it a name that means “southern ape” for that very reason – “Australo” means “southern” (as in Australia), “pithecus” means “ape”. (Ref. anthropology, hominids, Africa)
Evidence News 11 October 2006