Lovejoy’s students to learn through his Ardi findings

Kristine Gill

The professor’s classes will get to view castings of the fossils and analyze reports

Professor Owen Lovejoy’s Biology of Ardipithecus class has “an extensive assignment” to complete before his return at the end of the month: review and analyze the Science Magazine report on Ardipithecus ramidus.

Lovejoy knows firsthand how extensive that assignment is. It took him and a team of more than 40 scientists 15 years to analyze the real Ardi to determine she was a hominid — a discovery that has turned what society knows of human evolution on its head.

The report is a condensed version of their findings, but it’s a huge report even by Science Magazine standards. Lovejoy said it was the single largest undertaking since the magazine published Apollo 11 coverage and is comprised of 11 articles, which include 120 sources plus supplementary online materials.

The articles are now available online in full, but none of that was available to Lovejoy’s students until the findings were published Oct. 2.

“The first two (class) lectures were on biomechanics and developmental biology,” Lovejoy said. “The problem with the class is all the Ardipithecus materials were embargoed by Science (Magazine) the moment we submitted them.”

Now the class can get to work.

Lovejoy is in London to give a presentation on early human evolution during a three-day conference for The Royal Society, a national academy of science in the UK, that starts Monday. When he gets back, his students will get to view castings of Ardi’s original fossils.

“They’ll get to see them,” Lovejoy said. “Since there are only two sets in the United States, we won’t be passing them around like popcorn.”

The first pours from the original mold, called official casts, are in Berkley, Calif., at the University of California. But Lovejoy predicts students everywhere will get to at least read about Ardi in their textbooks soon.

“Ardi is so transformational that I assume (she) will be in all texts within a year,” Lovejoy said.

Dissenters usually start popping up during the review process, but Lovejoy said most of the reviews his team’s work received were positive. They didn’t have to modify their paper to please any reviewers. He said the next step is for serious researchers to view the findings and the casts, which are now available for observation.

But the e-mails have flooded in.

“They’ve mostly been congratulatory,” Lovejoy said, but Sunday’s premiere of the Discovery Channel special featuring Lovejoy and his team brought on another slew of e-mails.

“Everyone and everyone’s uncle has a theory on why we walk upright and some of them are just, of course, hilarious,” Lovejoy said.

Contact newsroom coordinator Kristine Gill at [email protected].