South African 'apeman' could be a missing link, say scientists


A primitive species of "apeman" who lived about 2m years ago has become the strongest candidate for being the oldest direct ancestor of the entire family of human species, from the earliest Homo erectus to the anatomically modern Homo sapiens of today.

Click HERE to view graphic (131k jpg)

Exhaustive investigations of two partial skeletons of the primitive hominin – a young adult female and a male child of about 11 – have revealed that this extinct species possessed anatomical features unique to the human lineage.

Studies of the hominin's fossilised brain case, pelvis, hand and feet indicate that Australopithecus sediba, which was only formally identified 18 months ago, could turn out to be a crucial "missing link" that connects the human genus to the rest of the primate evolutionary tree.

Professor Lee Berger of the Univerity of Witwatersand in Johannesburg, who discovered the fossils at the site of an ancient cave system at Malapa, 30 miles north-west of the South African city, said the analysis provides convincing evidence that A. sediba was the immediate direct ancestor of the human species.

"The fossils demonstrate a surprisingy advanced but small brain, a very evolved hand with a long thumb like a human, a very modern pelvis, but a foot and ankle shape never seen in any hominin species that combines features of both apes and humans in one anatomical package," Professor Berger said.

"The many very advanced features found in the brain and body, and the earlier date make it possibly the best candidate ancestor for our genus, the genus Homo, more so than previous discoveries," he added.

Dating of rock sediments stuck to the fossils have placed the age of the skeletons to between 1.977m and 1.98m years – one of the most accurate dating estimates for this period in hominin history. This in itself puts A. sediba in a prime position for being the ancestor of Homo, which emerged as a distinct genus relatively soon afterwards.

The earliest accepted member of the the human family tree is Homo erectus, a species that lived between about 1.8m and 1.3m years ago, left Africa and became widely dispersed in Asia.

Earlier human species that lived in Africa, such as Homo habilis and Homo rudolfensis, which were dated to 1.9m years ago, were considered ancestral to H. erectus, but some experts have questioned whether they are truly human.

However, five different studies of A. sediba, which were published in the journal Science, indicate that it was in fact more human-like in much of its anatomy than H. habilis, the "handy man" who was thought to one of the first tool makers.

"The hand is one of the very special features of the human lineage, as it's very different from the hand of apes," said Tracy Kivell of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Leipzig, Germany, one of many scientists who worked on the sediba analysis.

"Apes have long fingers for grasping branches or for use in locomation, and thus relatively short thumbs that make it very difficult for them to grasp like a human.

"A. sediba has, in contrast, a more human-like hand that has shortened fingers and a very long thumb," Dr Kivell said.

"Although at the same time, it appears to have possessed very powerful muscles for grasping.

"Our team interpreted this as a hand capable of tool manufacture and use, but still in use for climbing and certainly capable of human-like precision grip," she said.

Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
Pistorius leaves Pretoria High Court to be taken to prison

Stephanie first after her public appearance as a woman at Rad Fest 2014

Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'


Endangered species spotted in a creek in the Qinling mountains

Life and Style

Company says data is only collected under 'temporary' identities that are discarded every 15 minutes

peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Life and Style

Some experiencing postnatal depression don't realise there is a problem. What can be done?

Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
Adel Taraabt in action for QPR against West Ham earlier this month
footballQPR boss says midfielder is 'not fit to play football'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

French Teacher

£21000 - £31000 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: French Teacher ? Sou...

Geography Teacher

£21000 - £31000 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Geography Teacher ? ...

Cover Supervisor

£50 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you an experienced Cover Super...

Cover Supervisor

£50 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Randstad Education is looking to e...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album