South African Scientists Announce Discovery of New A. Sediba Skeleton at Malapa Site

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.

[Sources: University of the Witwatersrand website, “Frequently Asked Questions”; ““New Sediba Fossils Found in Rock”]

The following photos were provided by the University of the Witwatersrand via their website as well:

The Malapa Site_21 May 09
(Courtesy University of the Witwatersrand, Wits Institute for Human Evolution)

The Malapa Site_ 21 May 09
(Courtesy, University of the Witwatersrand, Wits Institute for Human Evolution)

Fossil 1: The rock containing the skeleton.
(Courtesy, University of the Witwatersrand, Wits Institute for Human Evolution)

Fossil 13: The rock containing the skeleton inside also contains antelope fossils visible on the outside.
(Courtesy, University of the Witwatersrand, Wits Institute for Human Evolution)

Fossil 2: The small tooth (in the centre) that was spotted and led to the discovery of the skeleton in the rock.
(Courtesy, University of the Witwatersrand, Wits Institute for Human Evolution)

Fossil 4: Justin Mukanku from the Wits Institute of Human Evolution spotted the tooth.
(Courtesy, University of the Witwatersrand, Wits Institute for Human Evolution)

Prof. Lee Berger and Wilma Lawrence with the rock containing the skeleton.
(Courtesy, University of the Witwatersrand, Wits Institute for Human Evolution)

The Malapa skeletons
(Courtesy, University of the Witwatersrand, Wits Institute for Human Evolution)

Prof. Lee Berger with the skeleton of Karabo
(Courtesy, University of the Witwatersrand, Wits Institute for Human Evolution)

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s