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Australopithecus is an extinct genus of bipedal hominids that evolved in eastern Africa around four million years ago. Most species of Australopithecus stood 1.2 m to 1.4 m (3 ft 11 inches to 4 ft 7 inches) tall and had a gracile build.

It eventually spread throughout the continent and became extinct roughly two million years ago. Many researchers think that the Genus Australopithecus contains six species: A. afarensis, A. africanus, A. garhi, A. anamensis, A. sediba and A. bahrelghazali.

Interestingly, the subfamily Australiopithecinae are divided into two genera, Australopithecus and Paranthropus. Species within Australopithecus are "gracile australopiths", while those within Paranthropus are considered robust australopiths. 

Australopithecus shows the early progression of features that we today associate with hominids. It is the first of the hominids that we know possessed the gene (SRGAP2) that causes both increased length of neurons in the brain (Reardon, 2012).

The scientific consensus is that Australopithecus is a direct ancestor and led to the Genus Homo (of which our species - Homo sapiens sapiens belongs). The genus Homo arose in Africa around two million years ago, with Homo habilis and Homo ergaster (Toth & Schick, 2005).

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© Joseph Villari

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