April 8, 2010

Anthropologist Discusses New Hominid Species

Two well-preserved skeletons of a human ancestor never before seen have been discovered in South Africa by a team that includes a Texas A&M University anthropologist.

The discovery is outlined in two papers in the April 9 edition of Science Magazine, the official publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). “Australopithecus sediba: A New Species of Homo-like Australopith from South Africa,” is the cover story of the journal.

The lead author on the paper is the project director, Dr. Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. Darryl J. de Ruiter of Texas A&M, the lead craniodental specialist on the project who helped determine the gender and age of the specimens, is the second author.

The genus name Australopithecus translates into “southern ape,” and the species is loosely referred to as an “ape man,” because they could still move around in the trees but once on the ground could walk on two legs as humans do, de Ruiter explains. “Sediba” means “fountain” or “wellspring” in the Sotho language.

“We actually think we have found the best candidate for a direct ancestor of Homo, the genus to which humans belong,” de Ruiter said of the fossils, which are believed to be between 1.78 and 1.95 million years old.

The site of the remains ““ a 10-by-10 cave about 8 feet deep ““ was discovered in August 2008, de Ruiter said. It was actually Berger’s 9-year-old son Matthew who spotted the first bone. Credit: Texas A&M University

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