The fossils discovered four years ago in Malapa near Johannesburg show a mixture of primitive features of australopiths and advanced features of later human species. The researchers led by Prof Lee Berger of Wits University are therefore of the opinion that the new species is currently the best candidate for a direct ancestor of our own genus Homo.
Reconstruction of Au. Sediba.
Lee Berger; University of the Witwatersrand
2D reconstruction by Peter Schmid of the 2 million year old Australopithecus sediba.
Lee Berger; University of the Witwatersrand
Researchers are now presenting new studies, including those of Peter Schmid, who taught and did research at the University of Zurich until he retired. Also involved were UZH students Nakita Frater, Sandra Mathews and Eveline Weissen.
Schmid has described the remains of Au. sediba’s thorax. “They show a narrow upper ribcage, as the large apes have such as orang-utans, chimpanzees and gorillas”, says Peter Schmid. The human thorax on the other hand is uniformly cylindrical. Along with the largely complete remnants of the pectoral girdle, we see the morphological picture of a conical ribcage with a raised shoulder joint, which looks like a permanent shrug. The less well-preserved elements of the lower thorax on the other hand indicate a slim waist, similar to that of a human being.
An examination of the lower extremities shows a heel, metatarsus, knee, hips and back, which are unique and unprecedented. Sediba must have walked with feet turned sharply inwards. This inward turn distinguishes it from other australopiths. The conclusion to be drawn is that our early ancestors were able to move around in a different way.Arms for climbing and brachiation
The lower jaw of the female skeleton was also examined along with previously unknown incisors and premolars. As noted already on the skull and other areas of the skeleton, the mandibular remains show similarities with other australopiths. They differ, however, in size and shape as well as in ontogenetic growth changes of Au. africanus. These results support the hypothesis that Au. sediba is taxonomically different from Au. africanus. In the relevant differences the parts of the lower jaw appear most to resemble those representatives of early Homo.
An analysis of the cervical, thoracic, lumbar and sacral region of the spinal column shows that Au. sediba had the same number of lumbar vertebrae as modern man. The strong hollow back suggests that he was more advanced in this area than Au. africanus and may be more likely compared with Homo erectus.
The new studies show a unique image of a human species with a mosaic-like physique. Some body parts are similar to those of earlier and others to those of later hominins. “The numerous similarities with Homo erectus suggest that Au. sediba represents the most appropriate early form of the genus Homo”, says Peter Schmid. The previous candidates are too fragmentary to be capable of occupying this position.Bibliography:
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