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Sunday, 03 March 2024, 23:34 (11:34 PM) CST, day 063 of 2024

Prehistoric Cultures

Fall 2012 Calendar -- DAY  [archive]

Fall 2012 Calendar  -- EVENING [archive]

Dates and Times to Remember 

class slides on-line 

Monday, 04 March 2024, 05:34 (05:34 AM) GMT, day 064 of 2024
. . . in History 
  . . . in Headlines

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OWL logo, Online Writing Lab, Purdue University.


Fossilized bones

Fossilized bones belonging to Orrorin tugenensis

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Search for the First Human

– A Secrets of the Dead Special

Secrets of the Dead  video.

60 min., 2002, CC, VC 4465

Interactive WebSite
from PBS


Dr. Martin Pickford
Dr. Martin Pickford

Case for Ancient Upright-Walking Ancestor Gets Legs
-- Scientific American (07 September 2004)


"This Secrets of the Dead special paints a portrait of a missing link in the evolution of humans using forensic techniques. After 13 bones were found in a volcanic layer dating back at least 6 million years in Kenya in December 2000, scientists nicknamed this earliest hominid the 'Millennium Man.' Scientists believe that further study of these bones will rewrite the story of human evolution."


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"For decades paleontologists have been searching for vital clues in Africa -- the remains of creatures nearest to the event that changed the world, the split between man and ape."

"In November 2000, Martin Pickford and Brigitte Senut from the College de France and a team from the Community Museums of Kenya make a remarkable discovery. In the Tugen Hills of Kenya they unearthed a group of fossils they believe sheds light on the origins of humankind. The team called their find Orrorin Tugenensis. It seemed like the discovery of a lifetime. Or was it?"

"The bones are older than any hominid bones found before. They are a staggering six million years old."

"Today, Orrorin is unleashing one of the greatest controversies the study of human origins has ever seen. But is it really a hominid?"

"The defining feature of the human race is the ability to walk upright. So this is what paleoanthropologists look for. They search for fossilized clues that can tell them whether the creature spent most of the time walking on two legs rather than four."

"If Martin and Brigitte find these clues and Orrorin was, indeed, walking on two legs six million years ago, scientists will have to rethink their ideas about how we split from the apes. The standard theories on how, when, and why we learned to walk on two legs would have to be reexamined."

"Martin and Brigitte also make a claim about one of the most famous discoveries of all time: "Lucy," a hominid from just over 3 million years ago in Ethiopia. Donald Johanson, who discovered her in 1974, claimed her to be our direct ancestor."

"The fossils from Orrorin have led Martin and Brigitte to the revolutionary conclusion that Lucy and her type, the australopithicines, were not our direct ancestors: rather, they were a branch that became extinct."

"Orrorin has created incredible debate, but what else could we expect from a candidate for our earliest ancestor, the first human?" -- PBS

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Terms / Concepts:

  • Orrorin tugenensis (Wikipedia article)

    • "Millennium Man"

    • Genus = Orrorin

    • Orrorin was a local Tugen mythological figure, "The Original Man"

    • 5.8 - 6.1 mya (Lukeino Formation via paleomagnetic dating)

    • The Kenya Palaeontology Expedition (KPE)

    • fossils (Lukeino Material)

    • 13 fossil fragments from 5 different individuals

      • femur (thigh bone)
      • humerus (upper arm bone)
      • teeth

    • did not use stone tools
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    • bipedalism

      • the emergence of bipedalism is one of the great mysteries of human evolution

      • Martin Pickford and Brigitte Senut challenge the traditional explanation of bipedalism, "The Savannah Hypothesis"

      • note how they investigate the origin of bipedalism

        • orangutan ("Forest Man")
        • robots
        • Orrorin

    • note how they determine that Orrorin tugenensis was a hominid

      • the lack of a knee joint is a setback in determining whether or not Orrorin was a biped

      • the orangutan, the robots and Orrorin are forcing us to reconsider the when, why, and how of original upright walking

        • Robin Crompton believes that bipedalism did not arise on the ground
          • he believes it arose in the tree

        • Orrorin moved and lived both on the ground and in the trees, 6 mya

        • think that Orrorin is even more related to humans than Lucy

        • if bipedalism arose before the appearance of the savanna, how did it arise?


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  • Note visualization of time

    • the first of our kind lived ca. 100,000 years ago and we find these about 3 miles down the line

    • Homo habilis lived about 2.4 mya and this requires a 60 mile journey back in time

    • ". . . 96 miles down the line, and 3.2 million years into prehistory, we eventually find -- Lucy."


  • Note dating methods and other methods of analysis, including the number of specialists used in the investigation

    • using geological stratification

      • 5.8 - 6.1 mya

    • paleomagnetic dating

    • were the fossils "intruded?"

      • faunal correlation with fossils of other animals of the time (found with Orrorin) which had been accurately dated from other sites

        • "this is from the Lake Miocene in age so it has to be around 6 million years ago"

        • the fossils also paint a picture of an ecosystem that was forested


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    • Computer Tomagraphy (CT) scanner

      • produces consecutive slices of the femur

    • robotics

    • dental analysis

      • Orrorin was probably an omnivore

        • probably ate nuts, fruits, berries and insects


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Cultures / Finds:

  • Orrorin tugenensis

    • "Millennium Man"
    • 5.8 - 6.1 mya
    • The Kenya Palaeontology Expedition (KPE)
    • Don Johanson suspects that they were not solitary creatures
    • "Orrorin was almost certainly a social beast"

  • "Lucy"

    • 3.2 mya
    • Donald Johanson (Paleoanthropologist)

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  • Tugen Hills, N.E. Kenya

    • "The Cradle of Humanity"

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  • Kiptalam Cheboi, Community Museums of Kenya
    • discoverer of Orrorin tugenensis
  • Martin Pickford (Geologist and Paleontologist)
  • Brigitte Senut (Paleoanthropologist)
  • Brian Richmond (Paleoanthropologist)
  • Donald Johanson (Paleoanthropologist)
  • Robin Crompton (Anatomist, Paleoanthropologist, Orangutans)
    • Chester Zoo, U.K.
  • Mark Raibert (robotics specialist)
  • Gary Schwartz (Dental Anthropologist)
  • Ian Tattersall, Curator of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History


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