Australopithecus is a group of extinct creatures closely related to human beings. The species had both ape and human characteristics with an ape-like face and a smaller brain than normal humans. It also had longer arms with strong, curved fingers for climbing trees. The name Australopithecus is a Latin word that means "southern ape," because the fossils are widespread in Eastern and Southern Africa.
Several species of Australopithecus existed, including afarensis, africanus, acthiopicus, robustus and boisei. Scientists believe that Australopithecus afarensis has more relation to the modern human being, either as a direct ancestor or a close relative of an unknown ancestor, than the other species. The name afarensis refers to the Afar Depression in Ethiopia, the location where researchers discovered some of the first fossils of the species, including Lucy, Selam, the First Family and Knee Al.
Australopithecus had adaptations for living both in the trees and on the ground. This adaptation helped the species to survive for almost one million years despite changes in climate and the environment. The species were smaller in size than modern humans, though they had larger canines and molars than humans. They were bipedal and herbivorous in nature. Most of the Australopithecus fossils discovered from East Africa are between 4.5 and 1.1 million years old.