Exclusive: photos at end of article from University of the Witwatersrand’s Institute for Human Evolution!
Palaeontologists at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa have announced, July 12, the discovery of a new Australopithecus sediba fossil encased in a 1-meter-square block of stone, found at the Malapa site in the Cradle of Humankind in South Africa. The stone had been discovered in 2009 and had sat in the University’s laboratories since then. The rock was deemed to be of importance because a fossil hominid tooth was discernible in a crevice on the outer surface of the rock. The find was transferred to the University for further study, but it was not until last month that a CT scan revealed “parts of a jaw and critical aspects of the body including what appear to be a complete femur (thigh bone), ribs, vertebrae and other important limb elements, some never before seen in such completeness in the human fossil record,” according to Professor Lee Berger, Reader in Palaeoanthropology and the Public Understanding of Science at the Wits Institute for Human Evolution. “This discovery will almost certainly make Karabo the most complete early human ancestor skeleton ever discovered. We are obviously quite excited as it appears that we now have some of the most critical and complete remains of the skeleton, albeit encased in solid rock. It’s a big day for us as a team and for our field as a whole.”
The Australopithecus sediba fossils that have been discovered so far have been found to be approximately 2 million years old. The first specimen was found by Prof. Berger’s nine-year old son, who was out with his dad at what has come to be known as the Malapa site searching for fossils in August of 2008.
The site has since produced some amazing finds. “Since its discovery in August 2008, the site of Malapa has yielded well over 240 bones of early hominins representing more than five individuals, including the remains of babies, juveniles and adults.”
“The team studying these fossils is one of the largest ever assembled in the history of archaeology or palaeontology. With more than 80 scientists, students and technicians from across the globe involved in the study, the team includes expert geologists, computer specialists, functional morphologists, anatomists and physicists.”
The new discovery was to be announced today, July 13, 2012, by Prof. Berger in Shanghai, China at the new Science and Technology Museum there.
In addition, in a first for palaeontology, the extraction of the hominid fossils from the rock will be broadcast live on the Internet, in a joint collaborative effort by The University of the Witwatersrand, The Gauteng (South Africa) Provincial Government, The South African Government and the National Geographic Society.
“A laboratory studio, designed in collaboration with the National Geographic Society, will be built at the Maropeng Visitor Centre in the heart of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site. It will allow the public to view the preparation of this skeleton live if they visit Maropeng, or live on the internet. ‘The public will be able to participate fully in Live Science and future discoveries as they occur in real time – an unprecedented moment in palaeoanthropology,’ explains Berger. ‘The laboratory studio will be also linked to laboratories at Wits University and the Malapa site.’
” ‘We are excited to have helped make this cutting-edge facility possible for the University of the Witwatersrand,’ says National Geographic Executive Vice President Terry Garcia. ‘We can’t wait to watch palaeontology happening in real time.’ ”
The details of the broadcast times and website locations apparently have yet to be finalized, but are expected to be announced soon.
The following photos were provided by the University of the Witwatersrand via their website as well: