Published: November 2006

Dikika Baby

Skull Bone

Childhood Origins

Meet the Dikika baby, a three-year-old from the dawn of humanity. Her discovery holds clues to the origin of childhood

By Christopher P. Sloan
National Geographic Senior Editor
Photograph by Kenneth Garrett, ©2006 Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage (ARCCH)

Zeresenay Alemseged has two babies. One is Alula, who spends most of his time in his mother's arms in a cozy bungalow in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital. The other is a little girl of three, who spent 3.3 million years locked in sandstone, until the Ethiopian scientist and his team discovered her remains and painstakingly teased them out of the rock. It was a long, slow second birth for a baby from the dawn of humanity.

Until now all fossils of babies this ancient could have fit in a diaper. This new arrival is not only the most complete ancient infant but arguably the best fossil of her species, Australopithecus afarensis. That's the same species as the superstar fossil called Lucy, a 3.2-million-year-old adult female found in 1974. Unlike Lucy, the baby has fingers, a foot, and a complete torso. "But the most impressive difference between them," says Zeresenay (Ethiopians' first names are their formal ones), "is that this baby has a face."

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