London: Paleontologists have unearthed the remains of a primitive ape-like creature which they believe could be the man's earliest ancestor that lived almost two million years ago. (Agencies)
The hominin, named Australopithecus sediba, was discovered in a cave in South Africa and has been dubbed the ‘missing link’ between apes and humans.
Now new details about its brain, pelvis, hands and feet made it clear that our ancient relative displayed both primitive characteristics as well as more modern, human-like traits.
Because of these features, scientists suspect the hominine is the best candidate for an ancestor to the Homo genus, the researchers said.
"The many advanced features found in the brain and body, along with the earlier date, make it possibly the best candidate ancestor for our genus -- the genus Homo -- more so than previous discoveries, such as Homo habilis (the earliest known human)," said Dr Lee Berger, of Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, who led the project.
According to five new papers published in the journal Science, Au. sediba, walked on two legs and had hips similar to modern humans, but still had some primitive features, such as longer arms and a smaller brain.
It had the most complete hands ever described in an early hominin, one of the more complete pelvises ever discovered and brand new pieces of the foot and ankle.
The age of these fossils has been calculated to about 1.977 million years which pre-dates the earliest appearances of Homo-specific traits in the fossil record.
Until now, fossils dated to 1.9 million years ago – and mostly attributed to Homo habilis and Homo rudolfensis – have been considered ancestral to Homo erectus, the earliest undisputed human ancestor.
Au. sediba hit headlines last year after a scientist's nine-year-old son found the partial skeleton of a 60-pound 10 to 13-year-old male during a dig at a site known as Malapa.
Further exploration led to the discovery of the remains for an adult female in her late 20s or early 30s weighing around 73 pounds.
Both the female and the young male were identified as being members of the new Australopithecus species, with sediba meaning ‘wellspring’.
Since then, fossils of at least 25 animals, including sabre-toothed cats, a wildcat, a brown hyena, a wild dog and a horse, were also found in the cave, which researchers believe acted like a ‘death trap’ for individuals seeking water.
The now fossilised woman and boy appear to have ‘taken a significant fall’ before plunging, or being later washed by rainwater, around 164 feet. Their bodies were then buried by a roof cave-in.
London: Paleontologists have unearthed the remains of a primitive ape-like creature which they believe could be the man's earliest ancestor that lived almost two million years ago.