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Australopithecus - ancestor of man?
The australopithecines are an extinct genus of hominids. The name derives from the location (South Africa) of the first fossil of this genus (Latin australis for "south" and Greek pithekos = "monkey"). The fossil, known as the Taung Kid, was discovered in 1924 in a quarry near the South African city of Taung. Meanwhile, more than a dozen finds have been made in Africa, of which the majority in East Africa.
The Australopithecus lived in the Pliocene 4 to 2 million years ago. With a size of about 1.2m and a weight of 35kg, he belonged to the smallest genus of hominids. It is probable that the genal Homo emerged from the Australopithecines, presumably by anagenesis. With a brain volume of 450 - 550 cm³, the brain corresponded to about one third of the brain size of today's Homo sapiens.
The anatomy of Australopithecus suggests at least a temporary locomotion on two legs. Because of the primary habitat in the forest and on trees, however, the upright walk can hardly have been a time stable alternative. From the fossil finds one knows that the Australopithicinen predominantly in forests and near rivers lived. Therefore, locomotion on all fours at the Australopithecines may have been the preferred one.
In addition, wear of the dentition is in favor of a predominantly plant-based diet of leaves, roots, fruits and nuts. A possible use of tools could not be definitively proven on the basis of the found fossils.
However, it is extremely difficult to reconstruct Australopithecus' exact way of life, as fossil finds are extremely rare on the one hand, and virtually no complete skeleton was found on the other hand. Conclusions on the lifestyle refer to a few pieces of bone or bone fragments. Also, the 1974 discovered partial skeleton of an Australopithecus afarensis named 'Lucy', consisted of less than 40% of the original skeleton. Nevertheless, this was one of the most media-effective finds ever, just because of its relatively good state of preservation and the amount of bones.
The different types of Australopithecines
A. anamensis: 4.2 - 3.9 million years, East Africa, at least 40+ finds
A. afarensis: 3.8 - 2.9 million years, East Africa, at least seven finds
A. africanus: 3.0 - 2.1 million years, South Africa, at least four finds
A. bahrelghazali: 3.5 - 3.0 million years, Central Africa, at least one find
A. garhi: 2.5 - 2.2 million years, East Africa, at least one find
A. sediba: 2.0 - 1.8 million years, South Africa, at least two finds
|Surname:||lat. 'australis' = south; Greek 'pithekos' = monkey|
|first record:||1924 in Taung (South Africa)|
|Period:||4 - 2 million years (Pliocene)|
|height:||about 1.1m - 1.4m|
|mass:||about 30 - 40kg|
|species:||A. anamensis, A. afarensis, A. africanus, A. bahrelghazali, A. garhi, A. sediba|
|circulation area:||East Africa to South Africa|
|brain volume:||450 - 550cm³|
|food:||mostly vegetable food|
|tool use:||not proven yet|
|Walking upright:||Yes, but only temporarily|