Monday, April 12, 2010

New Australopithecus

In the Malapa cave north of Johannesburg, South Africa a group of fossils was found that date as early as 2 million years ago. The fossils included a nearly complete skull and partial skeleton of a 11-12 year old boy, an adult female skeleton, and two other skeletons belonging to an infant and an adult female. The fossils belong to a new species called Australopithecus sediba. This new species has a mix of some of the primitive features typical of australopithecines and some of the more modern features typical of later humans. The researchers are necessarily hesitant to call this the missing link, but it is the best candidate yet for an immediate Homo ancestor. It is also possible that the fossils belong to a side branch of late-surviving australopithecines. As the early evolution of humans is still cloudy, particularly the steps in between australopithecines and Homo, it is as yet unclear how these fossils are to be classified.

Here's the report with lots more details and a video: http://www.sciencemag.org/extra/sediba/
and http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/summary/328/5975/154

The articles: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/328/5975/195 (DOI: 10.1126/science.1184944)
and
http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/328/5975/205 (DOI: 10.1126/science.1184950)
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