Article | Published:

A juvenile early hominin skeleton from Dikika, Ethiopia

Nature volume 443, pages 296301 (21 September 2006) | Download Citation



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.

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We thank the Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage (ARCCH) and the National Museum of Ethiopia of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, and the Afar regional government for permits; A. Dessie, T. Gebreselassie, G. Assefa, A. Kebede, M. Mekonnen, H. Defar, A. Zerihun, A. Takele and the people of the Dikika area for field assistance; A. Admassu for laboratory assistance; the National Geographic Society, the Institute of Human Origins at ASU and the Leakey Foundation for financial and logistical support. For discussions and help, we thank R. Ackermann, M. Clegg, H. Coqueugniot, C. Dean, T. Fitch, J.-J. Hublin, L. Humphrey, P. Jenkins, D. Johanson, K. Kupczik, S. Larson, D. Lieberman, C. Lockwood, R. Martin, E. Mbua, R. McCarthy, K. Mowbray, P. Morris, T. Nishimura, P. O'Higgins, O. Pearson, A. Pommert, Y. Rak, J. Richtsmeier, L. Scheuer, B. Sokhi, B. Viola, C. Ward and T. Weaver. We also thank B. Wood for critical comments and suggestions that have improved our paper greatly.

Author information

Author notes

    • Jonathan G. Wynn

    †Present address: Department of Geology, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida 33620, USA


  1. Department of Human Evolution, Max-Planck-Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Deutscher Platz 6, 04103 Leipzig, Germany

    • Zeresenay Alemseged
  2. Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK

    • Fred Spoor
  3. Institute of Human Origins, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, PO Box 874101, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona 85287-4101, USA

    • William H. Kimbel
  4. Department of Anthropology, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia 30602-1619, USA

    • René Bobe
  5. CNRS UPR 2147, 44 rue de l'Amiral Mouchez, F-75014 Paris, France

    • Denis Geraads
  6. Department of Anthropology, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas 78712, USA

    • Denné Reed
  7. School of Geography and Geosciences, University of St Andrews, St Andrews KY16 9AL, Scotland, UK

    • Jonathan G. Wynn


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Competing interests

Reprints and permissions information is available at The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Zeresenay Alemseged.

Supplementary information

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  1. 1.

    Supplementary Notes

    This file contains seven sections of Supplementary Notes. S1 details dental dimensions and sex of DIK-1-1. S2 details the facial profile. S3 discusses brain EV estimates. S4 discusses brain EV growth (absolute, relative). S5 describes the Hyoid, S6 the scapula and S7 details the semicircular canal size (absolute, relative). This file also contains additional references.

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