Joburg fossils may change views of human origins

2011-09-08 16:14

A well-preserved set of two-million-year-old fossils shows a part-human, part-ape species had hands similar to man, sophisticated ankles that helped in movement and a surprisingly tiny but advanced brain, a report released today said.

The fossils, discovered in a sunken cave north of Johannesburg, may change views of the origins of humans. They show a combination of anatomical features never seen before, demonstrating close links to the species and humans.

“The many very advanced features found in the brain and body, and the earlier date make it possibly the best candidate ancestor for our genus, the genus Homo, more so than previous discoveries,” said Lee Berger, at the Institute for Human Evolution at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

Berger and a team of experts examined fossils from the site, and in findings to be published in the prestigious periodical Science said they found the most complete hand on the species called hominins, the most complete, undistorted hip bone and well-preserved ankle bones.

“This is giving us insight, that isn’t guesswork into an area of anatomy that is crucial and critical in how human walking evolved,” Berger said of the foot and ankle bones.

The hand, which was described as a human-like at the end of an ape-like arm, had a precision grip that could have aided in making tools, said team member Tracy Kivell, a researcher at Germany’s Max Planck Institute.

Its elongated thumb differs from that of apes and allows for it to grasp objects more firmly.

The grapefruit-sized brain of the hominins with a shape close to that of humans and may challenge theories about brain enlargement in human development, they said.

Since the discovery of the site in August 2008, 220 bones have been found of the early hominins, representing at least five individuals.

The paper in Science is based on a detailed analysis of two of the individuals.

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Jobs in Western Cape region

CSR Inbound

Cape Town Northern Suburbs
O'Brien Recruitment
R14 000 - R16 000 Per Month

Debtors/Creditors Supervisor

Century City
Pro Placements Recruitment Agency
R10 000 - R12 000 Per Month

Graphic Designer

Cape Town Northern Suburbs
Creative Sourcing
R7 000 - R9 000 Per Month

Property [change area]

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.