New Human Ancestor Discovered! Historic Sediba Fossil Unveiled at Maropeng
Professor Lee Berger, Professor of Anthropology at the University Witwatersrand, today unveiled what he describes as “the Rosetta Stone of paleoanthropology” – an amazingly well preserved set of fossilised remains of a 11-13 year old male hominid together with an older (25 – 30 years) female.
The remains were unveiled at a live global presentation, attended by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and a number of other dignitaries, that was streamed across the web and a live television audience.
This is the first major find of such significance that it has the members of Wits University’s Institute for Human Evolution suggesting that this find represents an entirely new species of hominid that could well be a direct ancestor of ours.
The hominid species, named Australopithecus sediba, is almost 2-million years old, and may be a transitional species between the Southern African ape-man Australopithecus africanus (like the Taung Child and Mrs. Ples) and either Homo habilis or even a direct ancestor of Homo erectus (like Turkana Boy, Java man or Peking man), according to Professor Berger, the paleoanthropologist in charge of the team.
Sixty scientists, researchers and specialists from around the world, as well as students, have worked on the fossils already for over a year and a half in secret. A paper by Berger and another by his colleague Professor Paul Dirks, both relating to the find, will be published in the journal Science on Friday, 9 April 2010.
What is most outstanding about the unveiling today was an indication of the large number of “spectacularly preserved" remains that have already been removed from the site. The researchers are yet to begin actual excavation of the site. The prognosis for further discoveries is extremely high.
What makes these skeletons unique is that they have a mix of both early and late hominid characteristics. They had long legs, a modern pelvis. Striding and running. This is different from early primates. "We have never seen this before," said Berger.
Both skeletons were found in the newly discovered Malapa cave site, just centimetres from each other. Their discovery was made by 9-year-old Matthew Berger who at the time was out hunting for fossils with his father Lee.
In another global first for South Africa, one of the fossils (the young male) will be on public display at the Maropeng Cradle of Humankind centre from April 9-18.
FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
- BBC News South African fossils could be new hominid species
- New York Times New Hominid Species Discovered in South Africa
- Financial Times* Hominid fossils fill human ancestry gap
- Sydney Morning Herald Finding the missing link
- Telegraph 2 million year old fossils ‘could help understanding of how man evolved from apes’
- Guardian.co.uk Fossil skeletons may belong to an unknown human ancestor
And my favourite:
- Wired Science Possible New Human Ancestor Discovered