Cape Town – Scientists will share their discoveries of more remains of an early type of human in a rock at the Cradle of Humankind online.
In 2008, Professor Lee Berger caused sensation among palaeontologists and anthropologists when he announced that his son, 9-year-old Matthew discovered an early type of hominin at the Malapa site.
The Australopithecus sediba fossil was later dubbed Karabo (“Answer” in Setswana).
On Thursday, scientists will share new discoveries via the use of virtual technology.
“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.
The newly discovered bones give scientists more information on the fossils.
“This discovery will almost certainly make Karabo the most complete early human ancestor skeleton ever discovered. We are obviously quite excited as it appears that we now have some of the most critical and complete remains of the skeleton, albeit encased in solid rock. It’s a big day for us as a team and for our field as a whole,” Berger added.
Since its discovery in 2008, the site of Malapa has yielded well over 240 bones of early hominins representing more than five individuals, including the remains of babies, juveniles and adults.
These fossils shed critical light on human evolution and recently Berger announced that the team comprising 80 scientists had found food stuck in the teeth of the fossil.
The University of the Witwatersrand, the Gauteng Provincial Government and the South African national government announced that the process of exploring and uncovering these fossil remains would be conducted live and conveyed to the world in real time.
“We are proud to be part of this programme which proves that Gauteng is indeed a world-class city-region at the forefront of scientific discovery and technological development,” said Gauteng MEC for economic development, Qedani Mahlangu.
Not all scientists are convinced of the age of the fossils and Paul Renne of the Berkeley Geochronology Centre in California questioned the conclusions of the team.
He conceded that the uranium-lead dating is credible, but said that the cave’s stratigraphy might not be complete enough to formally rule out a much younger paleomagnetic signal for the fossils.
Tim White, a paleoanthropologist at the University of California, Berkeley says that Australopithecus sediba is too different from the Homo genus and the shared characteristics could be due to normal variation among australopithecines.
“Given its late age and Australopithecus-grade anatomy, it contributes little to the understanding of the origin of genus Homo,” White said.