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Machines Like Us

Is Australopithecus sediba the most important human ancestor discovery ever?

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Three years ago researchers added a new branch to the human family tree: Australopithecus sediba, a nearly two-million-year-old relative from South Africa. By all accounts it was a dazzling find—two partial skeletons, an adult female and young male, from a site called Malapa just outside Johannesburg. And it has been making headlines regularly since then whenever scientists release results of new studies of the material, as they did earlier this month. Any time human fossils, especially skeletons, are unearthed it’s a big deal, because such remains are so incredibly rare. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that A. sediba may just be the most important hominin (modern humans and their extinct relatives) discovery yet.

Since the initial announcement in 2010 the discovery team, led by Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johnannesburg, has published a slew of papers detailing what A. sediba looked like, when it lived, what it ate and how it is related to us, among other insights.

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