Meet Australopithecus sediba

Australopithecus sediba skull

Matthew Berger, aged 9, tripped over a lump while his father hunted for fossils and thus his father uncovered beautifully preserved fossils of two individuals in South Africa from about 1.9 million years ago. Discover Magazine reports:

…we don’t know for sure where Australopithecus sediba would belong on the evolutionary tree with respect to us. “There’s no compelling evidence that this newly proposed species was ancestral to Homo,” remarks Bernard Wood of George Washington University in Washington, D.C. [Science News]. These bones date to a time when the genus Australopithecus was beginning to give way to Homo, our own. The New York Times reports, however, that while Berger’s team places its find within Australopithecus, not all anthropologists are sure it can be so easily classified.For instance, the Australopithecus sediba arms are long like an ape’s, suggesting these hominids were competent tree climbers. But the hands are smaller, like ours. The boy’s skull is small, like Australopithecus. But his nose and cheekbones more closely resemble Homo.

“They are a fascinating mosaic of features,” said Rick Potts, director of the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian Institution. “It reminds us of the combining and recombining of characteristics, the tinkering and experimentation, that go on in evolution” [The New York Times].

Donald Johanson, the discoverer of Lucy (which is classified under Australopithecus), praised the find but says Berger’s interpretation is way off. He think the fossil is a variety of Homo.

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