Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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In 2008, the son of American paleoanthropologist Lee Berger literally stumbled on the remains of a 1.9 million year old hominid at the Malapa site in South Africa. Analyses of that partial skeleton and a second individual found nearby, dubbed Australopithecus sediba, are revealing new information about the evolutionary transition between Australopithecines and the earliest members of the genus Homo.

The new hominid probably lived at the same time as Homo habilis, the first known tool-maker, but the differences between the two species are striking. A. sediba had a brain that is very close in size to its likely ancestor Australopithecus africanus—about two-thirds the size of H. habilis. However, A. sediba had longer legs and a pelvis shaped to make it a more efficient walker than other Australopithecines; in that way it is similar to members of the genus HomoA. sediba and H. habilis coexisted, but so far no evidence that A. sediba made tools has been published. Berger is just getting started. Malapa is located just nine miles from several well-known early human sites—Swartkrans, Kromdraai, and Sterkfontein—so it isn't surprising that Berger has located more than two dozen sites in the area near the two skeletons and he still has to analyze the partial skeleton of a four-month-old A. sediba.