One Giant Step For Mankind

Meet your newfound ancestor, a chimplike forest creature that stood up and walked 5.8 million years ago

The region of Ethiopia called the Middle Awash, some 140 miles northeast of the capital of Addis Ababa, is a hot, harsh and inhospitable place--a rocky desert punctuated by tree-lined rivers, the occasional lake and patches of lava that are slowly being buried by sediments flushed out of the hills by the torrential rains that come along twice a year.

But between 5 million and 6 million years ago, the landscape here was very different. The same tectonic forces that racked the region with earthquakes and volcanic eruptions had also thrust the land up as much as a mile higher...

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