New early human species announced

New early human species announced

Australopithecus sediba: a new branch in our family tree?

Scientists have discovered fossils of a new species of Australopithecus in South Africa.  The new species, named Australopithecus sediba, come from a cave called Malapa. The fossils are between 1.95 and 1.78 million years old.  The fossils include a skull and partial skeleton of a young male approximately 12 to 13 years old when he died, and an adult female jaw and partial skeleton. The Malapa hominin fossils are an important and exciting contribution to our knowledge of Australopithecus anatomy, and provide further details to scientists trying to work out how early human species are related to one another.

According to the scientists who discovered the fossils, Australopithecus sediba is most likely descended from Australopithecus africanus. They also think that A. sediba has several traits that it shares with early Homo species. They use these traits to argue that early Homo may have evolved from an earlier species of Australopithecus similar to A. sediba.  Yet the earliest Homo fossils, dated at least 2.33 million years old in East Africa, are much older than A. sediba. It remains to be seen whether A. africanus or A. afarensis (Lucy's species), or perhaps another species yet to be discovered, is the ancestor of the genus Homo. The Malapa hominins will add important information to this fundamental question in human origins.

 images showing which parts of the fossil skeleton of Australopithecus sediba were found

Image Credit: Berger et al/Science

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photo of the skull of Australopithecus sediba

Image credit: Brett Eloff

Berger, L.R., de Ruiter, D.J., Churchill, S.E., Schmid, P., Carlson, K.J., Dirks, P.H.G.M., Kibii, J., 2010. Australopithecus sediba: a new species of Homo-like australopith from South Africa. Science 328, 195-204.