South African scientists say they had uncovered the most complete skeleton yet of an ancient relative of man, hidden in a rock excavated from an archaeological site three years ago.
The remains of a juvenile hominid skeleton, of the Australopithecus (southern ape) sediba species, constitute the “most complete early human ancestor skeleton ever discovered,” according to University of Witwatersrand palaeontologist Lee Berger.
“We have discovered 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,” said Berger, a lead professor in the finding.
The latest discovery of what is thought to be around two million years old, was made in a one-metre wide rock that lay unnoticed for years in a laboratory until a technician noticed a tooth sticking out of the black stone last month.
The technician, Justin Mukanka, said: “I was lifting the block up, I just realised that there is a tooth.”
It was then scanned to reveal significant parts of an A. sediba skeleton, dubbed Karabo, whose other parts were first discovered in 2009. Parts of three other skeletons were discovered in 2008 in the world-famous Cradle of Humankind site north of Johannesburg.
It is not certain whether the species, which had long arms, a small brain and a thumb possibly used for precision gripping, was a direct ancestor of humans’ genus, Homo, or simply a close relative.
“It appears that we now have some of the most critical and complete remains of the skeleton,” said Berger.