The Discovery of Ardipithecus Kadabba, the Oldest Hominid

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The Discovery of Ardipithecus Kadabba, the Oldest Hominid



During an excavation in the middle Awash Region of Ethiopia, Haille- Sellaise unearthed six hominid teeth. These were at first thought to be the fossilized teeth of
Ardipithecus Ramidus. The teeth have now been determined to be from the late Miocene, and those of Ardipithecus Kadabba. These are the oldest hominid remains found, to date.

Upon earlier digs in this region between 1997 and 2000, Haille- Sellasie discovered an earlier tooth and fragments of an arm bone. These remains were first thought to be those belonging to “Ardipithecus Ramidus Kadabba, a subspecies of a younger hominid” (Science Daily). However, after the further recent teeth discoveries it has been decidedly evident that these belong to Ardipithecus Ramidus. The hominid has enough evidence to be its own species rather than a subspecies of Ardipithecus Ramidus Kadabba, as earlier thought. This could possibly mean that “The new fossils show the most primitive canines ever found among hominids” (Science Daily).

Much can be told about the lifestyle of an animal through the wear and acquired shape of their teeth. In the case of Ardipithecus Kadabba this implicates that this species may be the first divergence from the chimpanzee line. “In the apes, the upper canine is continually honed against the lower third premolar to keep it sharp. Human canines lack this function” (Sanders). What is gathered from this information is that the teeth of Ardipithecus Kadabba may be that of the oldest known hominids, and the first to branch off from chimpanzees. Also an implication may be that “the newly evolved hominids were living in radically different, less competitive social structure than seen in modern chimps” (Sanders). The sharp canine would probably be used to injure, and in fights between males in hopes to impress females. In today’s chimps the fact that Ardipithecus Kadabba (as closely related to chimpanzees as it is) lacks this feature is an indicator of this.

The Ardipithecus Kadabba is thought to be a bipedal hominid. “Bipediality involves a large and complex set of anatomical traits and is not a dichotomous character” (Haille- Selassie, Suwa, White). The fact that these hominids began to walk on two feet may be attributed to an increasing male role in carrying off spring as well as collecting food.

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“Anthropologist Owen Lovejoy proposed in the 1980’s that reduced canines among early hominids showed that males had become more involved in the parenting process, and the carrying of infants and food was strong selective pressure toward a musculoskeletal system adapted to walking on two legs” (Sanders). By evaluating the dental record of such as hominid as Ardipithecus Kadabba and making not of the rounded upper canines, paleontologists are able to make such assumptions. With the decrease of a need for a weapon like upper canine it becomes apparent that the males took on a more nurturing role. In the need to carry offspring the slumped over posture that would come as a result would then tempt the chimpanzees to begin to walk in such a way that only required the use of two legs. Ardipithecus Kadabba is thought to be just this hominid and the evolution of such hominids would prove that Ardipithecus Kadabba would be the first branch off of a long line of primates, such as chimpanzees.

This discovery was unearthed at “Asa Koma” or the Red Hill (locality three). This had been an area of excavation since approximately 1997. The site is located along the western margin of the middle Awash area of Ethiopia, about 180 miles northeast of the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. During the four years of excavation between 1997 and 2000 eleven different fossils were found, that were thought to be from the late Miocene. Earlier these findings were “first reported in the journal Nature in 2001” (Science Daily). These six particular teeth were found during a dig in 2002 and as in other findings “early hominids have been identified through dental characters” (Haille- Selaisse, Suwa, White).

Though it may usually be difficult to estimate the approximate age of such remains there was the help of contextual clues in this case. The teeth were found in “deposits sandwiched between volcanic horizons dated by the argon/argon method” (Sanders). This is a method in which measurements of argon-39 and argon-40 isotopes measured against a constant potassium-39 and potassium-40 isotope help to arrive at an approximate age. “Unlike potassium- argondating, for which this method was developed as an alternative, measurements of both isotopes are simultaneously made at the same location in the crystal lattice where the argon is trapped”(Baum). In other words, this up to date dating method determined these remains to be between 5.54 and 5.77 million years old. The actual dating of these six teeth was done at UC Berkely;s Geochronology Center by Paul Rennee. It is typical that the teeth would be the primary signifigant remains of Ardipithecus Kabadda. It is predictable that teeth will be the longest lasting human remains, as it is harder than bones. Soft parts are the first to decompose, and the teeth are the last.

There are certain aspects of these findings that I think may be found somewhat questionable to other paleontologists. Upon my reading of Haille- Selassie’s findings I was forced to question how they knew certain aspects of their findings, and how they knew as much as they did about them. The fact that the soul findings from the entire excavation (staring in 1997) were teeth and fragments of an arm bone, I think that it may be brought into question how the paleontologists involved are able to tell that Ardipithecus Kadabba was bipiedal. However much can be infered by the loss of the sharp upper canines, and the more nurturing role taken on by Ardipithecus Kadabba it is still an infered idea rather that straight fact. To some this may be questionable and the same findings may have been interpreted differently.

The Awash region of Ethiopia’s site of Asa Koma or the “Red Hill” has yielded some of the oldest known hominid teeth. These are thought to belong to Ardipithecus Kadabba. Due to subtle yet distinct differences between these and chimpanzee canines, Ardipithecus Kadabba is thought to be the first species to branch away from primates. Through the use of argon/argon testing the extreme ancientness of these findings (thought to be between 5.54 and 5.77 million years old) are measurable and can be traced to the late Miocene. Ardipthecus Kadabba’s teeth found 180 miles northeast of the Ethiopian capital are remains of a six million year old human ancestor.

Works Cited

Baum, Steve. The Glossary. 1997. 3 April 2004. http://stommel.tamu.edu/~baum/paleo/paleogloss/node4.html


Haille- Selassie, Yohannes, Suwa, Gen, White, Tim. Late Miocene Teeth from the Middle Awash, Ehtiopia, and early Hominid Dental Evoloution. Science Magazine 303. 5663 (2004):1503-1505

Sanders, Robert. New Ethiopian Fossils are from 6-Million-Year Old Hominid Living Just After Split from Chimpanzees. 2004. 04 March, 2004. http://berkely.edu/news/media/releases/2004/03/04_Akadab.shtml

Science Daily. New Ethiopian Fossils are from 6-Million-Year old Hominid Living Just after Split from Chimpanzees. 2004. 03 March, 2004. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/03/040304195656.htm


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