Nature 443, 296-301 (21 September 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature05047; Received 22 April 2006; Accepted 6 July 2006

A juvenile early hominin skeleton from Dikika, Ethiopia

Zeresenay Alemseged1, Fred Spoor2, William H. Kimbel3, René Bobe4, Denis Geraads5, Denné Reed6 and Jonathan G. Wynn7,8

Understanding changes in ontogenetic development is central to the study of human evolution. With the exception of Neanderthals, the growth patterns of fossil hominins have not been studied comprehensively because the fossil record currently lacks specimens that document both cranial and postcranial development at young ontogenetic stages. Here we describe a well-preserved 3.3-million-year-old juvenile partial skeleton of Australopithecus afarensis discovered in the Dikika research area of Ethiopia. The skull of the approximately three-year-old presumed female shows that most features diagnostic of the species are evident even at this early stage of development. The find includes many previously unknown skeletal elements from the Pliocene hominin record, including a hyoid bone that has a typical African ape morphology. The foot and other evidence from the lower limb provide clear evidence for bipedal locomotion, but the gorilla-like scapula and long and curved manual phalanges raise new questions about the importance of arboreal behaviour in the A. afarensis locomotor repertoire.

  1. Department of Human Evolution, Max-Planck-Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Deutscher Platz 6, 04103 Leipzig, Germany
  2. Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK
  3. Institute of Human Origins, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, PO Box 874101, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona 85287-4101, USA
  4. Department of Anthropology, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia 30602-1619, USA
  5. CNRS UPR 2147, 44 rue de l'Amiral Mouchez, F-75014 Paris, France
  6. Department of Anthropology, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas 78712, USA
  7. School of Geography and Geosciences, University of St Andrews, St Andrews KY16 9AL, Scotland, UK
  8. †Present address: Department of Geology, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida 33620, USA

Correspondence to: Zeresenay Alemseged1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to Z.A. (Email:


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