Two partial skeletons have been discovered in the cave deposits in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site near Johannesburg, in the Republic of South Africa by members of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.
The human fossils, close to 2 million years old, have been classified as a new species: Australopithecus sediba. Australopithecus means "southern ape" and Sediba, taken from the local South African language seSotho means "natural spring, fountain or wellspring".
The findings represent some of the most significant scientific discoveries of recent years and were published today in the scientific journal Science.
Dr Robyn Pickering of the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Melbourne who was one a team of international and Australian scientists to accurately date the sediments surrounding the fossils says, "We are now able to fill in the gap of what happened 2 million years ago in the beginnings of our species."
"It has never been clear where our own genus Homo came from this new discovery, Australopithecus sediba could answer these questions," she says.
Researchers say this species appears to be a transitional form, maybe the best yet found, between early australopithecines and early members of the genus Homo, thereby replacing other candidates such as Homo habilis (the tool making 'handy' man from east Africa) as the distant ancestor of Homo sapien.
The Sediba fossils are exceptionally well preserved, and therefore provide a unique insight in the period when the earliest members of our genus evolved.
Sediments from surrounding and supporting the fossils were analysed by several research teams.
Using a state-of-the-art uranium lead dating technique, conducted independently and in parallel by Dr Pickering at the University of Melbourne and her former PhD supervisor Professor Jan Kramers
|Contact: Rebecca Scott|
University of Melbourne