Tuesday 16 July 2019

'Missing link was still in trees two million years ago'

The first fossils of Australopithecus sediba were discovered in Malapa, South Africa, 10 years ago, but experts were unsure if they were unique (stock photo)
The first fossils of Australopithecus sediba were discovered in Malapa, South Africa, 10 years ago, but experts were unsure if they were unique (stock photo)

Sarah Knapton

A new 'missing link' between our ape-like ancestors and early humans has been identified, showing we were still swinging from the trees less than two million years ago.

The first fossils of Australopithecus sediba were discovered in Malapa, South Africa, 10 years ago, but experts were unsure if they were unique.

Now after a decade of a research, experts have confirmed they do belong to a unique species which slots into the human family tree between little upright apes like 'Lucy' - the 3.2 million-year-old Australopithecus afarensis skeleton found in 1974 - and Homo habilis, the first tool-maker, which lived 2.1 to 1.5 million years ago.

Australopithecus sediba, which lived between 1.95 and 1.78 million years ago, still had arms bones like monkeys suggesting it spent large amounts of time swinging in the trees long after it was thought we had moved on to the ground.

Tools

It also had the short foot bones of a creature that did not walk long distances and a small brain, like Lucy.

Yet its hands had developed long opposable thumbs, showing it had the dexterity to use tools. Its teeth revealed its diet was more varied and human-like than its vegetation-munching predecessor.

Researchers concluded Australopithecus sediba represents a major transition in evolution and a bridging species between more ape-like Australopithecines and the more human Homo habilis.

"The anatomy we are seeing in Australopithecus sediba is forcing us to reassess the pathway by which we became human," said Dr Jeremy DeSilva, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, who co-authored four of the papers on the fossils.

Irish Independent

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