An apelike creature with human features, whose fossil bones were discovered recently in a South African cave, is the most plausible known ancestor of archaic and modern humans, the scientists who discovered the fossils say.
The claim, if accepted, would radically redraw the present version of the human family tree, placing the new fossil species in the center. The new species, called Australopithecus sediba, would dislodge Homo habilis, the famous tool-making fossil found by Louis and Mary Leakey, as the immediate human ancestor.
Paleontologists agree that the new fossils, discovered by Lee Berger of the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, are of great significance. But they do not necessarily agree with Dr. Berger’s contention, published Thursday in five articles in Science, that the fossils are on the main line of human evolution.
As is common in the field of paleoanthropology, the discoverer of a new fossil is seeking to place it on the direct line of human descent, while others are resisting that interpretation.
The new fossils are unusually complete. In addition to two skulls reported last year, researchers led by Dr. Berger have since retrieved an almost complete right hand, a foot and a pelvis. The bones are especially well preserved because their owners apparently fell into a deep cave and a few weeks later were swept into a sediment that quickly fossilized their bones. The rocks above the cave have gradually eroded away, bringing the fossils to the surface, where one was found by Dr. Berger’s son, Matthew, in 2008.
The Australopithecenes fell into the cave 1.977 million years ago, according to dating based on the rate of decay of uranium in the rock layer that holds the fossils.
TVNL Comment: Would someone PLEASE send this to Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry?