The Rosseta Stone to the origin of humans

An original piece from Deskarati chief editor – Jim Robb

South African fossils found in 2010 possibly shed light on the origins of the human species. Will this change the current thinking on where we originated? Could this lead to continous debate at the pub on a Wednesday night? Probably.

We read that The University of Witwatersrand’s Professor Lee Berger thinks it that it may, although how he knows what goes on down the local hostelry – we do not know. But, according to Berger and his team’s recent announcement, the fossils of a 12-13 year old male and a adult female, found in a cave in South Africa, are Australopithecus sediba which has a strange hybrid of human and ape-like characteristics. If Berger and his team are correct, Australopithecus sediba is on the same direct evolutionary line as Homo sapiens. Which, we’re sure you are all aware, is us.

Australopithecus sediba had arms and shoulders suitable for climbing and swinging through trees and a small brain indicative of the ape, but its feet, teeth, pelvis and brain shape were more consistent to early human’s. This amalgam of the modern and primitive has given the scientists the idea that paleoanthropolgy’s greatest puzzle may have been solved.

There are two main classifications for this type of ancient beings, that lived on Earth over a million years ago, the ape-like Australopithecus and the genus Homo. Current think tells us that one of the evolutionary lines from Australopithecus led to Homo, our genus, but no one knew which line. Now we have Australopithecus sediba – the new contender.

Prof. Lee Berger led the team that discovered the fossils in 2010

As with all theories in this field there is disagreement between researchers. Although Australopithecus sediba may have evolved into Homo erectus others claim it is, or could be, a late surviving species of Australopithecus that later went extinct. Scientists are agreed that the fossils are Australopithecus and not Homo but it was on its way to becoming human as seen by the hands suitable for making tools and legs/pelvis made for walking. In Berger’s words it is “the Rosetta Stone to the origin of Homo. It’s a species in transition – transitioning towards humans”. We have been careful not to mention ‘missing link’ at this stage as this could lead to one of our regular contributors having a coronary – (yes Alfy that’s you) but we look forward to his comments on this ‘Rosetta Stone’!

The Australopithecus sediba fossils were found in a cave eroded from limestone at Malapa, 25 miles northwest of Johannesburg in South Africa. The area is a World Heritage Site known as the Cradle of Humankind due to the great number (over 850) of early hominid fossils found there over the years. In 1936, amateur palaeontologist, Robert Broom was the first person ever to discover remains of an adult Australopithecus in the Sterkfontein Caves in ‘The Cradle’. – Deskarati

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One Response to The Rosseta Stone to the origin of humans

  1. alfy says:

    They may well be correct that A. sediba was an ancestor of Genus Homo; only time, and further research will tell. “Missing link” is a journalist’s term, best avoided by serious students. It gives a misleading impression of a chain of species linking humans to ape-like ancestors and all we need is that one missing link in the chain. Human descent is more like a hazy cloud where each new discovery is placed somewhat indeterminately somewhere in the cloud.

    Anthropologists frequently hypothesise, “My latest fossil discovery was on the main line of human evolution. It was one of my ancestors.” The odds are more likely that it wasn’t. It is a bit like going to a medieval graveyard and digging up some bones and saying, “This is my ancestor.” It may be, but the greater likelihood is that it is not. As you know, I carry a bucket of cold water with me at all times.

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