Renewed fieldwork at Hadar, Ethiopia, from 1990 to 2007, by a team based at the Institute of Human Origins, Arizona State University, resulted in the recovery of 49 new postcranial fossils attributed to Australopithecus afarensis. These fossils include elements from both the upper and lower limbs as well as the axial skeleton, and increase the sample size of previously known elements for A. afarensis. The expanded Hadar sample provides evidence of multiple new individuals that are intermediate in size between the smallest and largest individuals previously documented, and so support the hypothesis that a single dimorphic species is represented. Consideration of the functional anatomy of the new fossils supports the hypothesis that no functional or behavioral differences need to be invoked to explain the morphological variation between large and small A. afarensis individuals. Several specimens provide important new data about this species, including new vertebrae supporting the hypothesis that A. afarensis may have had a more human-like thoracic form than previously appreciated, with an invaginated thoracic vertebral column. A distal pollical phalanx confirms the presence of a human-like flexor pollicis longus muscle in A. afarensis. The new fossils include the first complete fourth metatarsal known for A. afarensis. This specimen exhibits the dorsoplantarly expanded base, axial torsion and domed head typical of humans, revealing the presence of human-like permanent longitudinal and transverse arches and extension of the metatarsophalangeal joints as in human-like heel-off during gait. The new Hadar postcranial fossils provide a more complete picture of postcranial functional anatomy, and individual and temporal variation within this sample. They provide the basis for further in-depth analyses of the behavioral and evolutionary significance of A. afarensis anatomy, and greater insight into the biology and evolution of these early hominins.
It’s the abstract and many figures from the original paper. This is a bit old as it first got to me a couple of weeks ago, but I was on vacation and not blogging (so there!).
The “pollicis longus” is a muscle of the hand. Most significant to me is that they’ve established a range of size variation in the one species so we know that the larger and smaller sized specimens weren’t from different species — always handy to know that. The other big news is that they have more evidence for true bipedalism which has been at issue in some circles. If you recall, Johanson et al. originally argued from the beginning that Lucy’s femur demonstrated that A. Afarensis was a true biped, and that therefore bipedalism came prior to a marked increase in brain size. Some had questioned just how bipedal they were. I’ve always more or less accepted Johanson’s original findings myself.