Heading south for the new origin of our species
- 18 April 2013
- Magazine issue 2913. Subscribe and save
- For similar stories, visit the Editorials and Human Evolution Topic Guides
WHEN 9-year-old Matthew Berger stumbled upon an odd-looking bone in 2008, he could not have anticipated the import of his discovery. But his father Lee, a palaeontologist, had an inkling.
The shoulder and jawbone embedded in the rock turned out to come from a 2-million-year-old member of the human family, with anatomical features that suggest it is one of our early ancestors. Since then, more remains of Australopithecus sediba have been discovered, and the latest work on them is enriching our understanding of human evolution (see "Signs of human skin found on ancient ape ancestor").
We have unearthed more and more ancient human species in recent years. Rather than there being a neat evolutionary line from ape-like ancestor to modern human, we now think there was a lot of interbreeding. A. sediba is just one such ancestor; others may await discovery.
The focus of fieldwork is also shifting. The most famous discoveries come from East Africa, but A. sediba was found in the Malapa cave, north-west of Johannesburg. So southern Africa may be the place to seek insights into our origins. It will take sharp young eyes to spot them.
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