A team led by Professor Lee Berger, a renowned palaeoanthropologist from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg (aka Wits University) has described and named a new species of hominid, Australopithecus sediba, almost two million years old, which was discovered in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, 40 kilometres out of Johannesburg, South Africa.
“Sediba, which means natural spring, fountain or wellspring in Sotho, one of the 11 official languages of South Africa, was deemed an appropriate name for a species that might be the point from which the genus Homo arises,” comments Berger. “I believe that this is a good candidate for being the transitional species between the southern African ape-man Australopithecus africanus (like the Taung Child and Mrs. Ples) and either Homo habilis or even a direct ancestor of Homo erectus (like Turkana Boy, Java man or Peking man).”
The specimens found are a juvenile male and an adult female. The species has long arms, like an ape, short powerful hands, a very advanced pelvis (hip bone) and long legs capable of striding and possibly running like a human. It is likely that they could have climbed. “It is estimated that they were both about 1.27 metres, although the child would certainly have grown taller. The female probably weighed about 33 kilograms and the child about 27 kilograms at the time of his death,” adds Prof. Berger. “The brain size of the juvenile was between 420 and 450 cubic centimetres, which is small (when compared to the human brain of about 1200 to 1600 cubic centimetres) but the shape of the brain seems to be more advanced than that of australopithecines.”
The fossils are owned by the people of South Africa, and curated by the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. They will be on public display at Maropeng in the Cradle of Humankind until the 18th of April 2010, will move to Cape Town for the launch of Palaeo-Sciences Week from the 19th of April and will again be on public display at the Wits Origins Centre during May, on dates to be announced shortly.