Prehistoric Human Ancestor that Walked like a Chimp and Smiled Like a Man


Photo: Brett Eloff/Lee R. Berger/University of Witwatersrand

One sunny morning in 2008, nine-year-old Matthew Berger was chasing his dog Tau near his father's dig site in the Malapa Nature Reserve, Johannesburg, South Africa, when he stumbled upon a fossilized bone. He ran to his dad, paleoanthropologist Lee Berger, who came over and cursed widly. Matthew mistakenly thought his father was angry because he had done something wrong, but Lee was just excited. "Sticking out of the back of the rock was a mandible with a tooth, a canine, sticking out. And I almost died," Lee said. The boy had just discovered a new hominid species.


Lee R. Berger, with his son Matthew and dog Tau, at the Malapa site where they discovered the hominid species. Photo: Benedicte Kurzen/NY Times

Fast forward to today, where 6 new research papers on the two-million-year-old fossils were published in this week's edition of Science:

The new analysis shows this species - Australopithecus sediba - had a human-like pelvis, hands and teeth, and a chimpanzee-like foot. [...]

In six separate research reports, scientists probed further into the anatomy of a juvenile male skeleton, commonly referred to as MH1, a female skeleton, known as MH2, and an isolated adult tibia or shinbone, known as MH4. [...] Scientists think the female and male could well have been mother and son.

It seems they died together in some tragic accident that saw them either fall into the cave complex or become stuck in it. After death, their bodies were washed into a pool and cemented in time along with the skeletons of many other animals


Composite reconstruction of Au. sediba (middle), as compared to modern human (left) and chimpanzee (right). Credit: Lee R. Berger/University of Witwatersrand

Amongst the findings are suggestions that Au. sediba walked like a chimp and smiled like modern day humans: Link


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