Australopithecus sediba (UW88-50) of Malapa, South Africa

Lee Berger’s son, Matthew, found the ~1.9 million year old hominin remains of female adult and a juvenile male in cave deposits at Malapa, South Africa. The remains have been analyzed and been published in Science today, and so far this finding is the big fossil hominid of 2010. The skull of the juvenile is the cover image for this week’s issue of Science.

Australopithecus sediba on the cover of Science
Australopithecus sediba on the cover of Science

Today’s paleoanthropology new is what was eluded to by a commenter last month. I talked to some colleagues about what the commenter could have been referring to back then, and they told me Berger’s gonna be releasing his findings on UW88-50. I didn’t report on it then because of several reasons, one of which was time constraints but also because I really didn’t have much information on the fossils. There’s a lot more press out today about it and while, I don’t have much time to digest it all, I figured I’ll at least share it with you in case you’ve been living under a rock.

The remains have been given a new species classification, Australopithecus sediba and are probably descendants of Australopithecus africanus. Like every other new fossil hominin species, there’s an array of archaic and modern features. The small teeth, projecting nose, very advanced pelvis, along with the long legs are the more modern features. The archaic features are the long arms and small brain case. What is special about Australopithecus sediba is that the hominin fossil record is pretty sparse around 1.9 million years ago and this fossil helps fill that gap.

Check out the news coverage, BBC, ABC News

    Berger, L., de Ruiter, D., Churchill, S., Schmid, P., Carlson, K., Dirks, P., & Kibii, J. (2010). Australopithecus sediba: A New Species of Homo-Like Australopith from South Africa Science, 328 (5975), 195-204 DOI: 10.1126/science.1184944
    Dirks, P., Kibii, J., Kuhn, B., Steininger, C., Churchill, S., Kramers, J., Pickering, R., Farber, D., Meriaux, A., Herries, A., King, G., & Berger, L. (2010). Geological Setting and Age of Australopithecus sediba from Southern Africa Science, 328 (5975), 205-208 DOI: 10.1126/science.1184950

11 thoughts on “Australopithecus sediba (UW88-50) of Malapa, South Africa

  1. The “a. sediba” …

    Is just another Australopithecus (1.78 – 1.9 million years ago ) that would have been contemporary with H.erectus.

    It may not even be a new species
    of Australopithecus.

    1. There were many australopithicines;a.Bosei,A.Robustus,A.Aferensis,A.Aafricanus and I’m thinking that the morphological differences were probably due to certain environmental stressors within the regions they occupied.So I presume that they are just Australopithicines.There were variations even among Homo Sapiens Neanderthalensis as some of them were quite large and powerful and others somewhat smaller;they to existed in various regions of Europe and they,as probably all life forms,are subjected to stressors.These stressors may possibly be both external and internal-and I have no clue as to the time when early man could react by thinking.And,of course,being able to think is not an absolute solution to a species survival.Homo habilis was a handyman and I would guess that this would have to be,due to the use of hands and tools,just before H.Erectus,the fire bringer.The way scientists could make an educated guess concerning the new find would be to examine the shape and size of the frontal lobes within the frontal and parietal areas of the cranium.By the way,Stephen J. Gould,I Believe was a noted astrophycisist(not sure of spelling).This is off subject,but he was interveiwed about Einsteins relativity theory,and he stated,”you know,I still can’t figure how he thought of that”. I hope our species survives(if we are a species).We are intelligent,and this does help,however,it as mentioned above,is not absolute.This is probably wrong in some areas,as I’m not a paleoanthropologist.I’m just an amateur astrophotographer and I think we are all special and possibly unique.I wonder, who was the first hominid to have just a ghost of a thought-Who am I,is there nothing more.

    2. I hope someone can help me — I’m trying to find an article I read a few months ago about a hominid discovery that showed a small brain case but had evidence that the brain had complex folding. The Berger and Sediba story sounded familiar but I don’t see a brain folding reference. Any clues?
      Thanks, andygee@interpor.net

  2. Missing link or new species?
    There are few branches on the bush of apes and old world monkeys but there is a genealogical sequence of branching in the evolution of apes and humans.
    The late Stephen Jay Gould for one helped me to understand the proper metaphor is bush not ladder and this help me to understand why the search for a “missing link” between advanced apes and incipient human is so meaningless.
    A continuous chain may lack a crucial connection, but a branching bush bears no single link at a crucial threshold between no and yes. Rather, each branching point successively restricts the range of closest relatives, the ancestors of all apes being separate from monkeys, forebears of the orangutan from the chimp-gorilla-human- complex, finally precursors of chimps from the ancestors of humans. No branch point can have special status as the missing link and all represent lateral relationships of diversification, not vertical sequences of transformation.
    There is a common precuror to primates further down the branching bush.
    An interested in paleoentology can be rewarded with reference to S J Gould 1993, Eight Little Piggies.
    It is wonderful to be finding more hominids but I still don’t quite understand why there are so few fossils maybe we just haven’t been here long enough in large numbers.

  3. Another species of human lineages? Australopithecines around 1.8 mya? How many species of human lineages did we have? Are they all really different species? I think this article raises more questions than answers for understanding human evolution. One thing that we know quite for sure is existence of a greater biological variation existed in the past than we have today.

  4. Thanks for the link, Occam’s Razor. I think the following comment there sums it up: ‘The new fossil has a suite of characters which confirm that there is no clear boundary between Australopithecus africanus and Homo’.

    “How many species of human lineages did we have? Are they all really different species?”

    I doubt very much the new discovery is actually a different species. All species vary over their geographic range, and I’d presume Australopithecus did too. Even today the inhabitants of South Africa differ in appearance from those of East Africa, and especially from those of West Africa in spite of the Bantu expansion.

    “Rather, each branching point successively restricts the range of closest relatives”

    The fact that various Australopithecus populations possess different aspects of the later Homo genus suggests to me that human evolution was more complicated even than a simple ‘bush’. It suggests mixing and (dare I say it?) hybridization.

  5. it is my opinion early hominid lineage will show much more variation then late (and usually then later). simply because like with most animals the geographical distribution (or(..) habitat) would tend to be more limited and the environmental effects for the species therefore more pronounced. as such i miss any comparative indications about the paleo-environmental setting. it would be interesting to know if the claim of a new species is supported by indications of a different habitat from other australopitheci.
    as it stands i am sceptical. to mention one example, it is said that the pelvis is very advanced, yet only a rather small fraction of one is found and probably not intact. i am nevertheless very interested in what else will follow and be found,
    since we don’t know much about austr.
    it occured to me also the specimen appears somewhat archaic for the apparent dating. almost suggesting a remnant population. of that however i am not to sure, the one or few habilis fossils are not much of a solid sample either. btw how i read the article the assumption that animal were drawn by the smell of water concerned other animal fossils then hominids found in the same eroded cave system. hominids could for example be drawn to close by the noise of trapped and wounded animals.

  6. alluded to, not eluded..eluded is to escape from ..sorry, grammar nerds read this too, not just anthropology ones!

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