News of the WeekPaleoanthropology

Candidate Human Ancestor From South Africa Sparks Praise and Debate

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Science  09 Apr 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5975, pp. 154-155
DOI: 10.1126/science.328.5975.154

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On pages 195 and 205 of this week's issue of Science, researchers describe a group of fossils found since 2008 in Malapa cave north of Johannesburg and dated as early as 2 million years ago, which they say are those of a new species they've dubbed Australopithecus sediba. Sediba means "wellspring" in the Sesotho language, and the team argues that the fossils have a mix of primitive features typical of australopithecines and more advanced characteristics typical of later humans. Thus, the team says, the new species may be the best candidate yet for the immediate ancestor of our genus, Homo. That last claim is a big one, and few scientists are ready to believe it themselves just yet.