October 2009

Featured in 11 articles in the AAAS journal Science for 2 October 2009
Freely accessible for download online at http://www.sciencemag.org/ardipithecus (requires free registration)

In the century and a half since Darwin first published On the Origin of Species, we have learned a great deal about human evolution. Now, as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of Darwin's seminal work, Science is publishing a set of papers that provide a new view of human evolution.

Produced by an international team of researchers including first authors Tim White, Giday WoldeGabriel, Antoine Louchart, Gen Suwa, and C. Owen Lovejoy, these 11 papers comprise a detailed and voluminous look at all aspects of Ardipithecus ramidus including one remarkably complete specimen (ARA-VP-6/500) discovered in Ethiopia.

Dated to 4.4 million years ago, Ardipithecus ramidus (nicknamed "Ardi") provides powerful new insights into evolution of both early humans and other close primate relatives (the chimpanzee and gorilla) and helps reveal the nature of our last common ancestor with chimpanzees. Ardi lived about a million years before "Lucy" - Australopithecus afarensis - and its species may well have evolved into Lucy's species. One of the more striking features of Ardipithecus is its bipedalism (as indicated by pelvic and othe skeletal features) combined with grasping toes! This could suggest that bipedalism may have preceeded the branching off of chimps from humans - something to ponder.

Be sure to read about the delicate - even "powdery" condition of these fossils, requiring years to extract, CT scan, and digitally reconstruct. Fossils of Ardi were first found in 1992, and an international team has been studying them ever since, only now, 17 years later, their comprehensive findings are being published in Science.

Be sure to download and print out the 5-page overview by Ann Gibbons: "A New Kind of Ancestor: Ardipithecus Unveiled." It includes some excellent figures, including a nice timeline, that you can enlarge and download for classroom projection. Also print out the Editorial by Bruce Alberts "Understanding Human Origins." These give a nice perspective to the collection of papers in that issue. The paper by Tim White, et al, on "Ardipithecus ramidus and the Paleobiology of Early Hominids" gives you a nice explanation of the site and the challenges of extracting and studying the fossil material.

ON TV: Discovery Channel - Discovering Ardi
Oct. 11, 2009

Also, coming up on the Discovery Channel: Discovering Ardi Sun. Oct. 11, 9:00 pm ET (check local listings). Ardi shows that many of the traits that we think of as "human" (e.g., bipedality, males that help care for young) evolved long ago.

Link to ENSI Lesson related to Ardipithecus:

Students plot the fossil ranges for all the major hominin discoveries on a timeline grid, then connect them to build a provisional phylogenetic tree. It has been updated to include Ardi and the two earlier genera, taking the lines back to about 6 Ma.


BECOMING HUMAN: Unearthing Our Earliest Ancestors
Three-Part Special Series Premieres Tuesdays,
November 3, 10, and 17 at 8pm ET/PT on PBS
This fall, NOVA celebrates the 200th anniversary year of Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his famous book the Origin of Species with three evolution-themed programs.

The series combines interviews with world-renowned anthropologists and paleoanthropologists and the most recent, groundbreaking discoveries with vivid images of our earliest ancestors to present a comprehensive picture of our human past. See details at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/becominghuman/



NOVA online activities surrounding evolution: On November 3rd NOVA will launch its new beta Evolution website . Carl Zimmer, Sean Carroll, Sarah Hrdy, Rick Potts and many others will contribute to the new site. We are also doing an 'open call' for evolution videos with PB Engage and The WGBH Lab (please see information below).


Teachers, Students - Get Involved:
"Life Stories" Open Call inviting video shorts inspired by NOVA

NOVA, The WGBH Lab, and PBS Engage present "Life Stories" Open Call Media makers invited to submit completed video shorts inspired by NOVA's line-up of evolution themed programming

In collaboration with NOVA and PBS Engage, the WGBH Lab continues it's seventh year with a new Open Call: "Life Stories." Inspired by NOVA's spotlight programming on Darwin and evolution, this Open Call is a marriage of science and creativity. The Lab challenges the general public, independent media makers, emerging talent, and the like to consider their own compelling perspectives or "life stories," craft unique videos, and share their vision with the world.

When Charles Darwin looked at life, he saw that all living things are related ­ from the tiniest ant to the largest whale. In his view, everything alive today descended ultimately from one common ancestor, like relatives on a family tree. Is this beautiful or disturbing? Is life a battle for survival or a harmonious web? A fleeting chance to realize dreams? The Lab invites participants in this Open Lab to consider these questions, and more, as they bring their stories to life.

Entries should be in completed form and no longer than three minutes in length. The Lab will post submissions and invite the public to vote for favorites. Final shorts will be featured online and may be broadcast on other PBS stations nationwide. Details and entry information can be found at wgbh.org/lab

The NOVA season kicks off in October with the first of three films, each approaching evolution in a different way and providing compelling background for the Open Call. "Darwin's Darkest Hour," presented by NOVA and National Geographic Television, illustrates the extraordinary human drama that led to the birth of the most influential scientific theory of all time. Starring Henry Ian Cusick (Lost), who portrays Charles Darwin, the film brings to life the scientist's greatest personal crisis: the decision over whether to "go public" with his theory of evolution. The program premieres on Tuesday, October 6 at 8pm ET/PT (please check local listings).

NOVA continues its celebration of the 200th anniversary year of Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his famous book, The Origin of Species, with the films "Becoming Human: Unearthing Our Earliest Ancestors" and "What Darwin Never Knew." "Becoming Human" is a three-part series, premiering on-air and online Tuesday, November 3, 10, 17 at 8pm on PBS (please check local listings); "What Darwin Never Knew" premieres on Tuesday, December 29 at 8pm on PBS (please check local listings). For more information on the programs, please visit www.pbs.org/nova

The WGBH Lab Sandbox, an open content library, allows media makers to use video clips to mash-up or remix to create a documentary or other creative piece. For the "Life Stories" Open Call, the Sandbox has available high-quality video clips related to the evolution theme, including 30 new assets from "Becoming Human." Clips are shared under a creative commons license and are accessed at lab.