Advert

Creature that bridged gap between apes and humans

Studies show two-million-year-old skeleton had a complex mixture of traits

A creature bridging the gap between apes and humans with a “mosaic” of missing-link features has been described by scientists.

A. sediba appears to have walked in a unique way, with its feet slightly twisted inwards

Several partial skeletons of the two-million-year-old species Australopithecus sediba were discovered in South Africa in 2008.

After four years of work, an international team of scientists presented results from one of the most extensive studies of an extinct hominin, or human-like animal, ever conducted.

Six research papers on the way the creature chewed and moved uncovered a complex mixture of traits. Some shared features seen in more evolved humans from the family Homo, while others were suggestive of more primitive apes.

A. sediba had a small, chimp-like heel and appears to have walked in a unique way, with its feet slightly twisted inwards. The odd gait may have been a compromise between upright walking and tree climbing, according to the authors, writing in the journal Science. The creature also had ape-like upper limbs equipped for climbing and hanging from branches, but its hand and wrist were distinctly human.

A high shoulder joint would have given A. sediba an ape-like “shrugged” appearance, and its narrow upper rib cage was also reminiscent of large-bodied apes. Yet the lower rib cage was more like that of a modern human, and while the creature had the same number of spinal vertebrae as people living today, its back was longer and more flexible.

A study of A. Sediba’s jaw and teeth, meanwhile, showed strong similarities with later human ancestors.

“All of the research so far shows that sediba had a mosaic of primitive traits and newer traits that suggest it was a bridge between earlier australopiths and the first humans,” said Debbie Guatelli-Steinberg, one of the study authors from Ohio State University in the US.

A. sediba is in the same genus family as two other ancient hominins discovered in Africa, A. afarensis – the famous ‘Lucy’ skeleton unearthed in Ethiopia in 1974 – and A. africanus, also from South Africa. Both are up to a million years older than A. sediba.

A reconstruction of the hominin Australopithecus sediba (centre) flanked by the skeleton of a female Homo sapiens (left) and male chimpanzee. Photo: University of the Witwatersrand/PA

Advert

Comments are submitted under the express understanding and condition that the editor may, and is authorised to, disclose any/all of the above personal information to any person or entity requesting the information for the purposes of legal action on grounds that such person or entity is aggrieved by any comment so submitted.

At this time your comment will not be displayed immediately upon posting. Please allow some time for your comment to be moderated before it is displayed.

For more details please see our Comments Policy

Comments not loading? We recommend using Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox with javascript turned on.
Comments powered by Disqus
Advert
Advert