In a discovery that could rewrite the story of human evolution, scientists working in South Africa have uncovered the skeletal remains of a new species of ancient human. The anatomy and age are described in two papers in the latest issue of the prestigious journal Science.
The two partial skeletons of an adult female and child were found in miners' debris in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site in 2008 by Professor Lee Berger from South Africa's University of the Witwatersrand.
The species named Australopithecus sediba has features of both earlier bipedal apes and more recent species of early Homo, the scientists claim.
An international team of more than 60 scientists was involved in the identification and dating of the skeletons, including Dr Andy Herries from the University of New South Wales, Dr Robyn Pickering from the University of Melbourne and Dr Paul Dirks from James Cook University.
"The newly documented species appears to be a very good transitional form, maybe the best yet found, between Australopithecines and early members of the genus Homo," Professor Berger said.
The name sediba, meaning "natural spring" in the Sotho language, seemed appropriate for a species that might be the point from which the genus Homo arises, he said.
The Australian scientists dated the fossil-bearing layers to between 1.95 and 1.78 million years-old. The hominin remains were dated at around 1.95 million years, placing the new species at a transition point in our evolutionary story from small brained bipedal apes to larger brained human ancestors.
Dr Dirks, a geologist, led the team studying the context of the fossils. The task of dating the remains fell to Dr Herries, an archaeological scientist from UNSW's School of Medical Sciences and Dr Pickering, from the University of Melbourne, both world leaders in the science of geochronology. The trio used advanced uranium-lead radiome
|Contact: Stephen Offner|
University of New South Wales