What Is an Australopithecus Afarensis?


Quick Answer

Australopithecus afarensis, or Au. afarensis, is the formal name of an early species of what are believed to be human ancestors. The name Au. afarensis was established in 1978, when archaeologists discovered several fossils of the species in Eastern Africa.

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Full Answer

Au. afarensis was believed to inhabit the region of Eastern Africa over a time period spanning from approximately three million to four million years ago. The species survived in this region for around 900,000 years, likely consuming soft foods like plants and fruit. Archaeological records suggest that Au. afarensis had long, strong arms and other adaptable characteristics that allowed them to survive for so long as their environment changed around them.

Au. afarensis is a member of Hominidae, a family that includes many modern primates as well as modern humans. Au. afarensis likely resembled a mix between a human and a modern ape, possessing a protruding lower jaw and flat facial structure. The Homo group, humans' most immediate ancestor, proceeded the Australopithecus group.

Remains of around 300 individuals from Au. afarensis were discovered between 1978 and the present, but there are many features of the species about which scientists cannot be sure, including whether they walked upright and how far they may have ventured into Central Africa.

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