A team of scientists has reconstructed a skeleton of Australopithecus sediba (skeletons photo ©Lee R. Berger, University of the Witwatersrand), a hominid that lived about two million years ago, putting together the bones of some partial skeletons found in 2008 in Malapa, about 45 km (about 30 miles) from the capital city of South Africa, Johannesburg.
This species, which could be a transitional form between Australopithecus africanus and Homo habilis, revealed mixed characteristics between those of humans and those of apes with the pelvis, hands and teeth similar to those of humans and feet similar to those of chimpanzees.
The first bones of Australopithecus sediba were discovered on August 15, 2008 when Professor Lee Berger was conducting an excavation in the natural reserve of Malapa. His son, Matthew, who was only 8 years old but apparently had already learned the basics of paleontology research, was with him and discovered a fossil bone.
Bones belonging to various individuals were found in the area. Individuals were also called Malapa hominin because their species belongs to the tribe of Hominini along with homo sapiens, chimpanzees, bonobos and various extinct hominids. As a result, the skeleton of a young man is referred to as MH1, the one of an adult female as MH2 and the tibia of another adult as MH4. Their bones have been used to try to reconstruct a complete skeleton that gives us an idea of what could be the appearance of an Australopithecus sediba.
In the journal “Science” six articles were published that describe in details the characteristics of the bones of the Australopithecus sediba to establish the relation of this species with other hominids and try to figure out if they really are the ancestors of Homo sapiens.
The teeth of Australopithecus sediba show features that suggest a form of transition from Australopithecus to the genus Homo. His arms are rather primitive and suitable for climbing trees. The chest is tight, similar to that of the great apes. The lower limbs suggest a bipedal walking. In short, a series of mixed characteristics between those of humans and the apes.
Lee Berger believes that there’s at least the possibility that Australopithecus sediba is an ancestor of Homo sapiens. An exact reconstruction of the relations among the many hominid species existed in the last few million years is difficult, also because often there are few skeletons available for analyzes and comparisons.
The only certainty that scientists have now is that in Africa several species of hominids evolved and further research is needed to try to establish their relations. There’s of course the hope of finding more skeletons and we can’t rule out the possibility of finding some belonging to other species still unknown.