Topic ID #10668 - posted 4/25/2011 4:00 AM

Four Individuals Caught in 'Death Trap' May Shed Light on Human Ancestors



Jennifer Palmer

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Four Individuals Caught in 'Death Trap' May Shed Light on Human Ancestors
by Ann Gibbons on 19 April 2011, 5:45 PM | Permanent Link | 0 Comments

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA—Finding one partial skeleton of an ancient member of the human family is the rarest of rare discoveries in human evolution. So, paleoanthropologists murmured in surprise at a meeting here Saturday when South African researchers announced that they had found at least four individuals of a new species of early human, Australopithecus sediba. The discoverers say that this hominin shows some surprisingly modern traits and its species may even be an ancestor of our own genus. “We really have found something very, very odd and very unexpected,” says discovery team leader Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. But other paleoanthropologists are waiting for more detailed analysis of the still-unpublished fossils before they agree on its identity or place in the human family tree.

The four hominin individuals died when they fell into a “death trap” in a cave about 2 million years ago at Malapa, South Africa, according to new dates reported by Berger in his talk at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA). In addition to the articulated partial skeletons of a youth and an older female unveiled last year in Science, the team members reported the discovery of bones of an 18-month-old infant and at least one other adult. This means they are getting a good look at Au. sediba’s development from infancy to old age. “It is going to be a remarkable record,” Berger said. “And we still haven’t found everything!”


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