Hominid is 'most significant'

2010-04-22 08:10
The recently discovered fossil, Australopithecus sediba, is on display to the general public at the Iziko Museum in Cape Town. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

The recently discovered fossil, Australopithecus sediba, is on display to the general public at the Iziko Museum in Cape Town. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - Professor Lee Berger, whose son is credited with discovering the first of a new hominid species at the Cradle of Human Kind, says that they are the "most significant collections in human kind".

"It's one the most significant collections in human kind," he told News24 as the fossils went on public display for the first time.

To illustrate his point that the fossils were unique, he described the context of the find.

"Where these fossils were found was a moment in time, a single sedimentary event. They died within minutes, hours, days, not more than weeks. Almost every other animal we found has been the best example in the fossil record," said Berger.

Ordinary South Africans will get the opportunity to see the recently unveiled hominid fossils, Australopithecus sediba, at the Iziko Museum in Cape Town.

Strategic advantage

"This kind of discovery doesn't happen every day and it's a fantastic thing to see the enthusiasm of children. A child was found by a child," said Berger.

He said South Africa was in the best position to teach the world about the evolutionary history of human beings because of the country's unique heritage and the preservation of the Cradle of Human Kind.

"In South Africa, we have a strategic advantage and this is endemic African science - we can do it better than anyone else in the world," he said.

Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor echoed his sentiments.

"There's a buzz out there about these fossils and South Africa has to play a leadership role in the area of science. We have to inculcate a sense of positive identity of human origin among African people," she said.

Pandor added that paleoanthropology would be central to her department's vision of working towards SA's own version of the Smithsonian Institute.

Berger said such a find was rare.

Mosaic hominid

"The vast majority of scientists in my field go through their entire careers never finding anything and there are over 60 scientists from around the world involved in this find. I represent all of these colleagues," he said.

He added that in the period the hominids died, there was also a "flip" of the Earth's magnetic field and this could be observed in the fossil record.

"They (the fossils) were not what we expected at 1.95-ish million years (ago). The preservation is extraordinary. There's a functional nose and a small brain," said Berger.

He said the characteristics of the fossils indicated they were a transition species.

"Australopithecus sediba is a real mix - a mosaic hominid," he said. He added the fossils have traits that may put them in the Australopithecus or Homo genus.

"We've found an infant and other adults and we haven't even dug yet," he added.

"This will teach us an enormous amount about when we went from an ape that went on two legs to something that's almost human. Watch this space, there's more to come," he said.

The fossils will be on display at the Iziko Museum until April 24.

- Follow Duncan on Twitter

Read more on:    naledi pandor  |  archaeology

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