Monday, April 19, 2010

New Human Ancestor Fossils Found

New Human Ancestor Fossils Found
Ker Than
April 8, 2010
Photograph courtesy Brett Eloff

Remarkably well preserved for a two-million-year-old fossil, this child's skull belongs to Australopithecus sediba, a previously unknown species of ape-like creature that may have been a direct ancestor of modern humans, according to a new study in Science.

Scientists think this particular Australopithecus sediba fossil is from a male between 8 and 13 years old. The child's fossils were found in the remnants of a subterranean South African cave system alongside the fossil remains of an adult female in her 30s.

"It's the opinion of my colleagues and I that [A. sediba] may very well be the Rosetta stone that unlocks our understanding of the genus Homo," the biological group that includes humans, study leader Lee Berger, of the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, said in a statement, referring to the artifact that helped decipher ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.

A. sediba could help anthropologists understand, to a greater degree than any human-ancestor species discovered so far, the transition from late australopithecines—the apelike group of species that came before the first Homo species—to the first direct ancestors of humans, Berger added.

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