Long, long lost cousin

The cranium of the juvenile

Via NPR:

A remarkable new discovery near Johannesburg, South Africa has come to light: the bones of two creatures that lived nearly 2 million years ago. Scientists are trying to sort out whether they might have been direct ancestors of humans or an experiment in evolution that disappeared. The partial skeletons belong to a juvenile about 9 to 13 years old and a female in her 20s. They were found in what once was a deep cave, where they probably died.

Scientists call them Australopithecus sediba — a new species. The famous fossil Lucy, found in 1974, was a different form of Australopithecus. Scientists suspect some form of this genus evolved into the very earliest humans, the Homo lineage. Anthropologist Lee Berger, from the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, suspects these creatures could be the one.

“It does look like a good candidate ancestor of early Homo,” he says, because their skeletons are such a bizarre mix of primitive and modern. They had long, apelike arms and tiny brains. But parts of the skull and the small front teeth are more like early humans such as Homo erectus. They also walked upright with a long stride.

The NY Times piece is more in-depth about the science, if you can sift through all the fluff about the nine-year-old klutz who tripped in a Johannesburg field and ultimately discovered the first sediba fossil.


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