Fossil May Be Human Evolution Game Changer

The discovery of a new fossil may be a game changer for human evolution. A team of scientists say a set of 2-million-year-old fossils could be a key link in the process of evolution that led to modern human beings.

Scientists say a startling mix of human and primitive traits found in the brains, hips, feet and hands of an extinct species identified last year make a strong case for it being the immediate ancestor to the lineageor possibly the “missing link.”

“We’ve started an open-access experiment to determine if we do, in fact, have skin,” said study leader Lee Berger, an anthropologist at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. “We are enlisting the entire scientific community in exploring this possibility.”

“This is what evolutionary theory would predict, this mixture of Australopithecene and Homo,” said Darryl J. DeRuiter of Texas A&M University. “It’s strong confirmation,” he added.

There is also new evidence suggesting that this species had the hands of a toolmaker. Fossils of the extinct hominid known as Australopithecus sediba were accidentally discovered by the 9-year-old son of a scientist in the remains of a cave in South Africa in 2008. Australopithecus means “southern ape,” and is a group that includes the iconic fossil Lucy, while sediba means “wellspring” in the South African language Sotho.

Oddly, A. sediba’s grip appears to have been more humanlike than that of the larger-brained and bigger-bodied Homo habilis, which is considered to be the earliest known member of the genus Homo. Alternatively, H. habilis may have represented a failed side branch of the human family tree, and it was actually A. sediba that was the direct ancestor of Homo erectus, which is the species widely regarded as the immediate forerunner of modern humans, Homo sapiens.

The finding and study of the remains indicated that it had a small brain. Furthermore, that the feet suggested it walked upright but were probably good for tree climbing for food and escape from predators.