Discovering Ardi: a new chapter on human evolution

  • Image credit: Jay H Matternes
  • Discovering Ardi: a new chapter on human evolution
Date:30 November 2009 Tags:, , , , ,

Following the publication in the journal on the find and study of a 4,4 million-year-old female partial skeleton nicknamed “Ardi”, Discovery Channel will present a world premiere special, (watch the trailer), to premiere in South Africa in December.

The two-hour special documents the sustained, intensive investigation leading up to the landmark publication of the fossils.

The scientific investigation that began in the Ethiopian desert 17 years ago opens a new chapter on human evolution, revealing the first evolutionary steps our ancestors took after we diverged from a common ancestor we once shared with living chimpanzees. "Ardi's" centrepiece skeleton, the other hominids she lived with, and the rocks, soils, plants and animals that made up her world were analysed in laboratories around the globe.

"Ardi" is now the oldest skeleton from our (hominid) branch of the primate family tree. These Ethiopian discoveries reveal an early grade of human evolution in Africa that predated the famous nicknamed "Lucy". was a woodland creature with a small brain, long arms, and short legs. The pelvis and feet show a primitive form of two-legged walking on the ground, but was also a capable tree climber, with long fingers and big toes that allowed its feet to grasp like those of an ape. The discoveries answer questions about how hominids became bipedal.

"The novel anatomy that we describe in our findings fundamentally alters our understanding of human origins and early evolution," said project anatomist and evolutionary biologist, Professor C Owen Lovejoy, Kent State University.

“Discovery Channel is thrilled to tell the story of . In , we show viewers the scientific analysis undertaken by this international team of 47 scientists as they piece together the hominid bones and link the evidence of thousands of other animals and plant fossils. The science in is core to our mission and we have taken great care to tell the story of great scientific find,” said John Ford, President and General Manager of Discovery Channel.

is the result of a ten-year collaboration between the Middle Awash research project and Primary Pictures of Atlanta. Director Rod Paul and his team worked closely with the scientists to develop an unprecedented level of detail, accuracy and coverage of the discovery of , much of it as it happened, on location in Ethiopia. Through permissions granted by the Ethiopian Government, initial filming took place in 1999 and was followed by three additional shoots in the desert research area and at the National Museum in Addis Ababa. Additional filming was done at The University of Tokyo laboratory of project scientist Dr Gen Suwa and locations in the United States.

The world premiere special begins its story with the 1974 discovery of in Hadar, northeastern Ethiopia. Nicknamed “Lucy”, this 3,2 million year old skeleton was, at the time, the oldest hominid skeleton ever found. As the Discovery Channel special documents, Lucy’s title would be overtaken 20 years later by the 1994 discovery of "Ardi" in Ethiopia’s Afar region in the Middle Awash study area. It would take an elite international team of experts the next 15 years to delicately, meticulously and methodically piece together "Ardi" and her lost world in order to reveal her significance.

The film uses both location sequences and extensive computer-generated animation to detail the original research. Dramatic aerial footage was filmed in 2007, capturing the stark beauty and drama of the Middle Awash depression. No re-creations took place. In 2007, Primary Pictures reached agreement with Discovery Channel for that network to have exclusive broadcast rights for both , as well as a companion hour to be broadcast in the coming year. Both programs are designed to bring the many discoveries of the Middle Awash team to a wide viewing public.

To watch the trailer of Discovery Channel’s , |click here|