A 2-million-year-old ancestor of man had creature-like features that gave him superhuman skills to hike vast distances on two legs with as much ease as it could scurry up trees.
Regardless of whether Australopithecus sediba is a direct ancestor of early Homo or not, our understanding of the range of variation in early hominins has been greatly increased with the finding of these new specimens.
Discovered in cave near Johannesburg in 2008, the fossils of a species named “Australopithecus sediba” have given researchers clues about the evolution of man and which traits in our ancestors fell by the wayside.
Standing about 1.3 meters (4 ft) tall, sediba had a narrow rib cage similar to apes but a flexible spine more similar to that of a human. Its long arms and powerful torso helped in climbing, according to the research published in the journal Science.
Sediba’s small heel resembled a chimpanzee’s and it walked with an inward rotation of the knee and hip on slightly twisted feet with a flat-footed gait that would have helped it cover ground, the researchers said.
“It is the perfect compromise of something that has the need to walk on the ground efficiently for long distances. At the same time, it is a very capable climber,” said Lee Berger, project leader at the Wits Evolutionary Studies Institute in South Africa.
The researchers plan further studies to see how these fossils of early human relatives known as hominin compare to other remains, to help put together the pieces of evolution.
“We have more complete specimens of fossils than for any other early hominin species that has ever been discovered. What this means is that we can make assessments of the anatomy and behavior of this species with a great deal of confidence,” Berger told Reuters.
As opposed to the authors of the initial description, who interpreted both fossils as a possible transitional species between Australopithecus and Homo, other palaeoanthropologists are reluctant to do so.
Some believe that the sediba might be ancestral to the genus Homo suggesting that the fossils could be a late southern African branch of Australopithecus, co-existing with already existing members of the Homo genus.
Either way, the creature itself, which is millions of years old, is still a fascinating discovery.