S.African scientists find most complete pre-human skeleton (Update)

New Au. sediba fossils discovered in rock
This is the tooth of a hominid embedded in a rock containing significant parts of a skeleton of an early human ancestor. The skeleton is believed to be the remains of "Karabo", the type skeleton of Australopithecus sediba, discovered at the Malapa Site in the Cradle of Humankind in 2009. Credit: University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
South African scientists said Thursday they had uncovered the most complete skeleton yet of an ancient relative of man, hidden in a rock excavated from an archaeological site three years ago.

The remains of a juvenile hominid skeleton, of the Australopithecus (southern ape) sediba species, constitute the "most complete early human ancestor skeleton ever discovered," according to University of Witwatersrand palaeontologist Lee Berger.

"We have discovered parts of a jaw and critical aspects of the body including what appear to be a complete femur (thigh bone), ribs, vertebrae and other important limb elements, some never before seen in such completeness in the human fossil record," said Berger, a lead professor in the finding.

The latest discovery of what is thought to be around two million years old, was made in a one-metre (three-foot) wide rock that lay unnoticed for years in a laboratory until a technician noticed a tooth sticking out of the black stone last month.

The technician, Justin Mukanka, said: "I was lifting the block up, I just realized that there is a tooth."

It was then scanned to reveal significant parts of an A. sediba skeleton, dubbed Karabo, whose other other parts were first discovered in 2009. Parts of three other skeletons were discovered in 2008 in the world-famous Cradle of Humankind site north of Johannesburg.

It is not certain whether the species, which had long arms, a small brain and a thumb possibly used for precision gripping, was a direct ancestor of humans' genus, Homo, or simply a close relative.

This video shows a reconstructed skull -- revised parts put together with endocast and transparent cranium. Credit: University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

"It appears that we now have some of the most critical and complete remains of the skeleton," said Berger.

Other team members were equally enthusiastic.

"It's like putting together the pieces of a puzzle," university laboratory manager Bonita De Klerk told AFP.

The skeleton of what has been dubbed Karabo and is thought to date back to around two million years old, would have been aged between nine and 13 years when the upright-walking tree climber died.

Remains of four A. sediba skeletons have been discovered in South Africa's Malapa cave, 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Johannesburg, since 2008. The individuals are believed to have fallen into a pit in the cave and died.

New Au. sediba fossils discovered in rock
This is a probable hominin fibula (circled), in block 051. Note the shaft of a probable femur just above and to the left. Credit: University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

The sediba fossils are arguably the most complete remains of any hominids found and are possibly one of the most significant palaeoanthropological discoveries in recent time.

The Cradle of Humankind, now a World Heritage Site, is the oldest continuous palaeontological dig in the world.

The university also announced it would open up the process of exploring and uncovering fossil remains to the public and stream it online in real time.

A special laboratory studio will be built at the Cradle of Humankind.

"The public will be able to participate fully in live science and future discoveries as they occur in real time -- an unprecedented moment in palaeoanthropology," said Berger.

The lab and the virtual infrastructure are expected to be built within a year, according to Qedani Mahlangu, a regional minister of economic development.

The university is in talks with Shanghai Science and Technology Museum in China, Britain's Natural History Museum and the Smithsonian in the United States to set up virtual outposts for the live science project.

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(c) 2012 AFP

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User comments

Jul 12, 2012
The bible says that Adam was formed from dirt by God 6000 years ago... so this fossil MUST be younger than that, and the only logical reason that it looks different than normal people is that, like many of us, he was born retarded.

Jul 13, 2012
I thought people knew me around here well enough to know that that was sarcasm... oh well.

Jul 13, 2012
Yay! So there are 4 individuals now. Clearly I haven't kept up. Well, it's not my business but I pitch in with Berger's idea that A. sediba is on the descent chain for the time being, it is simpler. But our tree was as among many other mammals a bush (see horses, whales, cats).

@ Deathclock: Yeah, well, I don't think we should give the creationists anything at all. Religion isn't what science blogs are about, unless it is on religion itself - such as that gods have stopped being necessary or likely explanations for anything at all. Clearly religion has failed when put to the test.

So what can creationists do, except intruding on social events that they are not welcomed to and behaving like pigeons playing chess - knocking over the pieces and take a crap on the board. Hilarious!

Jul 19, 2012
Religion hasn't "failed". If you apply a test of scientific success to religion, which has different goals, then any results you get are nonsensical and meaningless. If you want to "test" religion, see if it achieves goals that it was actually pursuing. Like, giving people a sense of community, or a reason to meet challenges.

Religion works differently from science. It communicates with metaphor instead of mathematical logic, and offers different things than science does.

As far as "creationism" vs "science/evolution", that is a straw man argument. Most religions and religious people in the world don't even take any particular position on the question.

In fact, "taking a position" is not even properly part of religion in the first place - it derives from intellectual debate, which has nothing to do with the goals of religions anywhere in the world. (Unless you are confusing real religion with things that only call themselves "religion" - e.g., the Taliban or the Inquisition.)

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