Child fossil find may be man's missing link
RICHARD GRAY, LONDON
April 5, 2010
A skeleton discovered in South Africa has scientists abuzz.
A ''MISSING link'' between humans and their ape-like ancestors has been
The new species of hominid, the evolutionary branch of primates that includes
humans, will be revealed when the 2-million-year-old skeleton of a child will
be unveiled this week.
Scientists believe the almost-complete fossilised skeleton belonged to a
previously unknown type of early human ancestor that may have been an
intermediate stage as ape-men evolved into the first species of advanced
humans, Homo habilis.
Experts who have seen the skeleton say it shares characteristics with Homo
habilis, whose emergence 2.5 million years ago is seen as a key stage in the
evolution of our species.
The discovery could help rewrite the history of human evolution by filling in
crucial gaps in scientific knowledge.
Most fossilised hominid remains are little more than scattered fragments of
bone, so the find of an almost-complete skeleton will allow scientists to
answer key questions about what our early ancestors looked like and when they
began walking upright on two legs.
Palaeontologists and human evolutionary experts behind the discovery have kept
silent about the exact details of what they have uncovered, but the scientific
community is abuzz with anticipation of the announcement of the find on
Professor Lee Berger, of the University of the Witwatersrand, found the
skeleton while exploring cave systems in the Sterkfontein region of South
Africa, near Johannesburg, an area known as ''the cradle of humanity''.
The find is deemed so significant that South African President Jacob Zuma has
visited the university to view the fossils and a media campaign with television
documentaries is planned.
Professor Phillip Tobias, an eminent human anatomist and anthropologist at the
university who was one of three experts to first identify Homo habilis as a
species of human in 1964, described the latest discovery as wonderful and
He is one of the few scientists outside the research group behind the discovery
who have seen the skeletons.
''To find a skeleton, as opposed to a couple of teeth or an arm bone, is a
rarity. It is one thing to find a lower jaw with a couple of teeth, but it is
another thing to find the jaw joined on to the skull, and those in turn uniting
further down with the spinal column, pelvis and the limb bones,'' he said.
''It is not a single find, but several specimens representing several
The fossil skeleton was found along with several other partially complete
fossils, encased in breccia sedimentary rock inside a limestone cave known as
The fossil record of early humans is notoriously patchy and scientists hope
these remains will provide fresh clues about how our species evolved.
Scientists believe a group of ape-like hominids, Australopithecus, which first
emerged in Africa about 3.9 million years ago, gradually evolved into the first
Homo species. About 2.5 million years ago, Homo habilis, the first species to
be described as distinctly human, began to appear.
It is thought the fossil to be unveiled this week will be identified as a new
species that fits between Australopithecus and Homo habilis.
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]