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African Heroes

Zeresenay Alemseged: Origin of Man to Help Stem Conflicts


Racism, tribalism, and regionalism have been identified as some of the reasons why Africa finds it difficult to forge ahead in development. Examining the origin of man reveals that we are all one and hail from a single ancestry.

Zeresenay Alemseged (Zeray), an Ethiopian Paleoanthropologist, discovered the world's oldest girl skeleton belonging to a 3 year old child. The 3.3 million year old skeleton called Selam ("peace" in several Ethiopian languages) is a member of the Australopithicus afarensis species (the "Lucy" species).

After completing his PhD in 1998 from the University of Paris, Zeray initiated the Dikika Research Project that focuses on the discovery and interpretation of hominid fossil remains that span over 3 million years in Northern Eastern Ethiopia. He wanted to explore what happened before Hadar, the site at which the famous Lucy was found, in terms of ancient environment, ancient animals and the landscape. "Learning about our origins is not merely a matter of curiosity but is the key to comprehending what we are and where we will end up," he observes.

Dr. Alemseged has made a number of startling discoveries about Selam. For example, the baby afarensis, who had many ape like features, toddled on two feet like a human child. The baby’s gorilla like shoulder blades raises the old question on A. afarensis’ ability to climb trees. The baby’s brain (330 cubic centimeters when she died) is not very different from that of a similarly aged chimpanzee. But when compared to the adult A. afarensis values, it forms 63 - 88 percent of the adult brain size, showing slower brain growth rate which is common in humans. The tongue bone will assist in determining the nature of the voice box and sound Selam made.

Other earlier findings in East Africa also assert that the continent is the original home of humanity. Dr. Alemseged urges Africans to have a positive attitude towards Africa. "It is time Africans explored the great things they have in their hearts and minds," he observes.

"Our past is deeply rooted in these prehistoric remains; and our origins transcend all the borders of culture, language, and civilization that people in the world have today" he says. He urges scientists and the museums to ensure that historical information trickles down to the society. Museums focusing on African history will not only be important for learning purposes but also attract both local and international tourists.

Contacts 

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

Phone: 0049 (0) 341 3550 353
Fax: 0049 (0) 341 3550 399
Email: zeray@eva.mpg.de
http://www.eva.mpg.de/evolution/staff/alemseged/




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