Posted by: Loren Coleman on April 8th, 2010
Malapa Man, the latest new member of the tangled branches that create the hominid family tree, was rolled out today, to meet the media. Have a look:
Photo by Brett Eloff courtesy of Lee Berger and the University of the Witwatersrand.
Charles Q. Choi at ScienceLive, Fox News, appears to have written one of the earliest comprehensive reports.
The cranium of the newly identified species, Australopithecus sediba, was found at the Malapa site, South Africa. As had previously leaked out, more than one specimen was found. It was confirmed to be a juvenile male and an adult female.
“Researchers stopped short of calling the new species, dubbed Australopithecus sediba, a missing link,” wrote Choi.
Australopithecus means ‘southern ape.’ Sediba means “natural spring, fountain or wellspring in Sotho, one of the 11 official languages of South Africa,” said researcher Lee Berger, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa. This was “deemed an appropriate name for a species that might be the point from which the genus Homo arises,” Berger said.
Choi also got different opinions from various specialists.
As intriguing as the new fossil is, “it’s not everything the rumor mill said it was going to be,” said paleoanthropologist John Hawks at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. “It’s not a missing link.”
One of the biggest mysteries in human evolution is when the human genus Homo arose.
“What sets us apart most from the australopithecines is the size of our brain,” Hawks said. With this new fossil, “while it has a somewhat Homo-like face, it doesn’t have a Homo-like brain — it’s smaller than the average for the earlier [Australopithecus] africanus.”
“Maybe these findings suggest we look to South Africa for a possible origin for Homo, but there’s not a smoking gun here,” Hawks added. Intriguing fossils have also emerged in East Africa, and even Asia, and much remains unknown when it comes to Central Africa and West Africa. All these clues raise the question of which species were our ancestors and which just evolved similar traits in a parallel manner. “We just need to find more skulls,” he noted.
Once again, read Choi’s very long article here.