“Ardi”, or Ardipithecus ramidus, has been much in the news lately. Most of the reporting has been decent, but there are some clearly over hyped ones. Thankfully, Paleoanthropologist John Hawks wrote an article for Seed magazine about Ardipithicus and its significance to the ongoing science of human origins. He also wrote up a great FAQ page on his blog, where he goes into some real detail.
As paleoanthropologist C. Owen Lovejoy describes it, Ardi gives us a view of a previously unknown “adaptive plateau” among early hominins—a suite of anatomical and behavioral characteristics that lasted for a long, stable period in the early Pliocene environment. The Ardipithecus form might account for the bulk of the whole story of human evolution—a kind of hominin that was different from anything that came before or after.