Remarkable New Fossils Found


April 30, 2010

Two nearly complete skeletal fossils, one a juvenile male and the other an adult female, were found a year ago in South Africa and announced last month  in two articles in the journal Science.  Lee Berger, a paleoanthropologist with University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg was mapping cave site near that city when his son Matthew, a short distance away with his dog, called out he had found a bone.  He had picked up a large rock which on one side contained a clavicle and upon turning it over the excited pair found a cranium embedded in the stone.

After further exploration of the nearby Malapa Cave, an ancient sinkhole, Berger and his fellow researchers found the remainder of the two skeletons.  In the Science paper they attributed the individuals to a new species named Australopithecus sediba, despite numerous indications of Homo like characteristics in the cranium and dentition.

The team indicated there were two more skeletons but they are not prepared at this time to describe them or provide additional details.

Both the juvenile and adult, who appear to have fallen to their deaths together from the edge of what was then a steep sided, water filled sinkhole, exhibit less prognathic faces but were small brained and had extremely long arms.  Speaking to BecomingHuman at a meeting in Albuquerque, Darryl J. de Ruiter, a co author on the Science paper, said the attribution to the genus Australopithecus was based on a number of postcranial features, not just the small brain, as is claimed by some commentators.

Using uranium-lead and biochronological dating methods, the team dated the remains to between 1.95 and 1.76 million years ago.

Read more, from Science, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

Here is a picture of one of the crania, from Science.