Hominid is 'most significant'

2010-04-22 08:10

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.

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  • GT - 2010-04-22 08:27

    Great find, suggest everyone go and see it.

  • Omphulusa Nemaxwi (AGE 13) - 2010-04-22 08:46

    This fossil should be named Ngwaniwapo, a Tshivenda word which means, the citizen of the citizens, the oldest of them all, the one whose origion is in that area, and his generation could be counted to no end in that area, and they have a rich culture. Ngwaniwapo knows and understands all the myth of the village and and has full understanding of the royal dynasties even when they themselves may not be of royalty. Even the chiefs and the kings of places comes to Ngwaniwapo to trace their own histories, their origin, and teh stories of the battle fields. Ngwaniwapo should be the name of this fossil find.

  • Neil - 2010-04-22 08:53

    The experts say: "They died within minutes, hours, days, not more than weeks." Got to wonder what they are smoking! Anyone who believes in evolution is a fool! God created us - period!

  • Cynick - 2010-04-22 09:21

    @Neil, what evidence do you have for your claim? Provide evidence and we we won't need faith.

  • William - 2010-04-22 09:25

    I was wondering if they can extract any mitochondrial DNA from the teeth. It would be very interesting to know where they fit in on the hominid tree.

  • William - 2010-04-22 09:27

    @Neil-Please grow up and go to some religious forum/blog whatever. Can't you see how obsessed you are with your religion?

  • Huh? - 2010-04-22 09:50

    I have never understood and probably never will - why man is so interested in looking back to see where we came from. What does it matter that some old bones were found. It is more important that we look firstly to the present to ensure what we do today makes a better future for each and every one of us. The only time history is of any use is to ensure that we don't make the same mistakes again. I'm sorry but a bag of old bones isn't going to do that for us. It's not going to solve the HIV crisis, global warming, lack of food and homes for the poverty strickened around the world or put and end to the bloody conflicts brought about by prejudice and racial, religions, political or land issues around the planet.

    For me as an individual,it doesn't matter Where I came from, I'm here today and that's what matters and counts, ancestry, lineage are a waste of time unless a person doesn't feel that they are worthy of just being who and what they are today and they need a boost from the past.

  • Russel Wolson - 2010-04-22 10:07

    This is so exciting! There is no telling what we will find in the future! We are so privileged to have it in our country for us to see!

  • William - 2010-04-22 10:26

    @Huh-Humans have different affinity for different things. This article obviously got your attention, that's why you left a comment, which is great and proofs that there is still true freedom of speech and thoughts as such, and thus goes both ways or what huh? But bare in mind that for some people, that includes me as well find this sort of discovery fascinating. I understand that some people find these articles intimidating and maybe a possible attack on there faith. For myself I think this is an unfounded fear.

  • Robert - 2010-04-22 10:30

    @Neil - I echo your sentiments, but toward anyone who believes in God to the exclusion of all other possibilities.

    This find is remarkable, and I do hope they find others remains of equal or superior scientific value.

  • Arthur - 2010-04-22 10:38 is you who is "the fool"...while God created us...and he is still creating as I are one seriously narrow minded "whacko"...evolution is with us, but you aren't...what is it that you are smoking??

  • zacky - 2010-04-22 10:53

    The theory of evolution is a load of bull.
    If man evolved from the ape - then from what did the ape evolve huh ?

  • Winston - 2010-04-22 10:56

    How proud I am to be a South African! @HUH? I understand your point completely! but this is what makes us human, we want to know... It might not solve the HIV crisis, but nor will taking everything on faith. We will sooner or later solve the HIV / AIDS crisis,of this I am absolutely convinced! because we are learning more and more everyday! for Myself being very interested in ancient history and archaeology, this has to be one of the greatest finds of all time! Some of us cannot and will not just except that god created everything... we want to know about our origins, our ancestors. This is normal. This is what makes us HOMO SAPIENS... thinking man! @ Prof Lee Burger - you are the man! @ Omphulusa Nemaxwi - I think Ngwaniwapo is a great name!

  • Gron - 2010-04-22 10:59

    Good find.

    Neil, if you're truly religious you would know God doesn't work that way. He doesn't just snap his fingers and *wham!*, man exists. If you believe, you'd know that he'd control everything. Even evolution.

  • CK - 2010-04-22 11:47

    Scientists tell us that approx. 90% of all species that have ever existed are now extinct. This is probably the skull of some extinct primate. To say that it is the ascendent of man or even a different species of organism is to postulate a point of view only. All the evidence is not in yet therefore if you want to fill in the gaps you will have to use faith either way.

  • Carolyn - 2010-04-22 12:21

    I truly believe this is a wonderful find,Now we know we were not just created like a flash of lighting,but really and truly evolved and are still evolving today, and evolution will carry on as long as there is man on this planet.
    Wake up Neil, go back to the planet you evolved from and have a chat with your god.

  • QuintS - 2010-04-22 12:40

    Much ado about nothing. Here is what Lee Berger's contemporaries say about him ... It also becomes clear that Lee Berger does not exactly endear himself to many of his fellow paleoanthropologists, some of whom have made some rather unflattering comments about him. In an article in The Weekend Australian national chief correspondent Hedley Thomas commented: “Renowned University of California paleoanthropologist Tim White savaged Berger on the release of his subsequent book, The Official Field Guide to the Cradle of Humankind, calling it ‘in many ways worse than useless, given the astonishing density of errors and misleading statements’. He added that it showed a disturbing ‘pattern of fabrication’. White wrote in the South African Journal of Science. ‘Berger’s rise to prominence signals a new era: one of smoke and mirrors, in which style triumphs over substance. In his short career, Berger has not in fact found very much but shows a remarkable ability to inject himself, via funding and publicity, into discoveries made by others.’ In case anyone missed the point, White branded Berger an enthusiastically ambitious but inexperienced American ‘more fascinated with fame and fortune than with serious science’”. See

  • Winston - 2010-04-22 13:07

    @ zacky. On what evidence do you base your view that evolution is a load of bull? We know that humans and apes share a common ancestor. Look how close we are genetically to chimps... Do some reading on the subject, it is extemely interesting! And if evolution is a load of bull, please allow us to explore and find the truth for ourselves.

  • @Gron - 2010-04-22 13:17

    "God does not play dice" - Albert Einstein.
    Neo-Darwinism is a theory based on chance mutation and natural selection. It is the chance part in natural selection that makes Neo-Darwinism and the idea of God as creator irreconcilable.

  • @ william from huh - 2010-04-22 13:20

    I agreed with you different strokes for different folks I'm glad you find it fascinating but I fail to see how this kind of hype over bones could evoke any kind of fear of attack on anyones faith of belief system. That can only happen if you are superstitious or highly religious which I am not. All I see are bones that have no real purpose - I live in the 21st century and they died however many centuries ago. I guess it all depends if you actually care where mankind actually began for this to be of any significance. It's the same issue as to whether you believe in the big bang theory which scientist are now trying to recreate (CERN) or God which the religious sectors of society are fighting to have accepted as gospel (excuse the pun). Even that I find mind boggling that both side are so adamant that they must prove where the earth came from. What does it matter? The earth is here, we are here and at the moment making a rather big stuff up of it but the earth exists no matter how it came into being. It's the same as everyone believing they have an important purpose on this planet and they go in search of finding their destiny and are very unhappy when they don't. Isn't enough that we exist and it is our every day to day lives and the way we live it that is the most important thing of all.

  • Winston - 2010-04-22 13:33

    @ QuintS - Taken from the CREATION MINISTRIES INTERNATIONAL website... Obviously creationists will look for the negative about said discovery! They ALWAYS do... I read the article, thank you! but this is science for you. There will always be different views! this is what makes the field so interesting! ...Still doesn't prove a god created us...

  • Science Magazine Quote - 2010-04-22 13:42

    “But others are unconvinced by the Homo argument. The characteristics shared by A. sediba and Homo are few and could be due to normal variation among australopithecines or because of the boy’s juvenile status, argues Tim White, a paleoanthropologist at the University of California, Berkeley. These characters change as a hominin grows, and the features of a young australopithecine could mimic those of ancient adult humans. He and others, such as Ron Clarke of Witwatersrand, think the new fossils might represent a late-surviving version of A. africanus [not generally considered a human ancestor anymore] or a closely related sister species to it”.

    Balter, M., Candidate human ancestor from South Africa sparks praise and debate, Science, 328:155, 2010.

  • Schmied - 2010-04-22 13:50

    Most people clearly don't (want to) understand the process of evolution. Having studied it at a highly-acclaimed tertiary institution I can without question say that there is far more evidence that supports this theory than the ridiculous notion of Creationism. For those Christians who believe God created everything, how do you account for the falsity of pre-Judeo Christian civilisations and peoples? A book says it's all a load of crap? Many texts and histories were written long before the Bible, and much of what was written in the Bible is merely a hollow echo of mythologies written before hand.

    As for Sediba not being a human ancestor... does it really matter? Hominid evolution separated into many dead-end branches, as has the evolution of most animal families. Regardless of whether this is a human ancestor or not, it is an insanely rare discovery of a previously unknown hominid.

  • BMP - 2010-04-22 14:01

    @Huh: Finding out how humans evolved (physically and mentally) is vital because it gives us clues to where we are going and what instinctual behaviours are still holding us back (by causing many of the problems you mentioned). See
    @CK: Sure there are many gaps in our knowledge of the world, universe and the form/evolution thereof. But scientists do not fill those gaps with faith, but hypotheses. Unlike faith, these hypotheses are tested against the evidence and other accepted theories. If they are falsified by either, then these hypotheses are rejected. Faith on the other hand, becomes dogma and religion. See
    @QuintS: I agree. Lee Berger is a tool and there are whispers amongst the halls that, not only is he incompetent and egotistical, but that he commandeers other’s research. Look how he dealt with Ron Clarke. I personally believe that sediba is a side branch of the australopithecine genus; it has far more primitive features that Homo rudolfensis and is younger. Having said that though, sediba is still a stunning find.

  • @BMP from Huh - 2010-04-22 14:46

    Unless the bag of bones dies of a disease that can be picked up from the bones themselves - how can anyone possible get any clues as to evolution of man of his way of thinking for that matter? No one will ever know his fears, emotional state, his dietary content his physical fitness. It's not exactly the same as the woolly mammoth they found completely frozen with grass still in its mouth. There the scientists had things to work with. I don't see how it can give any clues to anything for us in the future. I think its a lot of hype to get Africa on the map. Which we already are for other less delightful reasons.

  • William - 2010-04-22 16:06

    @Huh-"I think its a lot of hype to get Africa on the map. Which we already are for other less delightful reasons." Hehe, I like your thinking.
    Finding archeological sites with abundance of specimens is a real gem. It is like starting a jigsaw puzzle. At the start there is not much clarity, but as the pieces take their place, the picture becomes clearer. This find is another "few" pieces in place so we can see the bigger picture.

  • @BMP - 2010-04-22 16:29

    The scientific method is ultimately based on faith in the reliability of the senses. Its all faith at the end of the day! Never try and use the scientific method to justify will let you down. CK

  • @BMP - 2010-04-22 16:33

    I also used to quote wikipedia before until i came across contradictions and inconsistencies in the information submitted by different contributors. Sometimes it is enlightening, true, but i wouldn't call it authoritative.

  • @Winston - 2010-04-22 16:39

    I have looked into the whole "genetically similar to chimps" argument and its a lot of smoke and mirrors. Not only this but research into DNA is relatively young. Evolutionists were a short while ago talking about "Junk DNA", which has now been shown to be a totally false concept. You are the one who needs to do some reading on the subject. trueblueand real

  • @BMP - 2010-04-22 17:33

    So, if a hypothesis gets shown to be wrong because the evidence goes against it, what was making the scientist/s hold onto it in the first place? It was factually incorrect remember! Therefore, they held it by faith.

  • Winston - 2010-04-23 14:31

    @ trueblueand real. Please explain what you mean by smoke and mirrors? this term is thrown around alot lately. Since you seem to be an authority on said subject, please be kind enough to point me in the right direction. Not ALL biologists agreed with the term "junk DNA" in the first place.

  • Shaun - 2010-04-23 14:32

    Is there anyone that could explain in simple terms the quotes below, please? Could it have any relevance to the current claims of changes in the earths magnetic fields and 2012?
    "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."
    "Where these fossils were found was a moment in time, a single sedimentary event. They died within minutes, hours, days, not more than weeks. "

  • Smk for Shaun - 2010-04-23 22:42

    I recently watched an article on youtube that described this. As the earth has an equator, apparently so does our galaxy, we circumnavigate the galaxys equator, but in a "wobble" as if you draw a line but move up and down as you draw it. When ever we pass thruogh the galaxy's equator, its magnetic field affect our own and this causes our own magnetic field to flip. I guess it is kind of like forcing two magnets towards each other. Found this one quick, it doesnt go into detail like the other one I found that had detailed scientific backing so go to youtube and add the following /watch?v=4Lhs7VR52Bg&feature=related

  • BMP - 2010-04-24 14:07

    @Huh: A great deal more than you give credit for can be gleamed from fossilised bones. There is also the context/matrix in which the fossilised remains were found (i.e. nearby tools, other faunal and floral remains, etc.). All of this provides clues as to the mental and physical capabilities of those hominids. The picture is not clear or complete, but it is certainly better than no picture at all! @CK: An incorrect hypothesis is initially held because it seems to fit other accepted theories and the evidence (until such time as it is proven incorrect). Scientists do not have "faith" in the hypothesis (and if they do, then they are engaging in ad hoc reasoning). Also (depending on the particular field and discipline) scientists try and move beyond our basic senses with instrumentation. We cannot see ultraviolet or infrared (for example), but we have tools that allow us to analyse those spectra. While, science is not perfect (the problem of induction, the metaphysical underpinnings of scientific methodology and principles such as Occam's Razor) it is certainly a lot better than faith based systems at explaining and manipulating the world around us. Appliances, vehicles and medication work after all. @"Nameless": I never said that Wikipedia is authoritative. I only made reference to it, because it is a far more accessible than most of the journal articles and books lying on my shelves or floating around the internet. Also, Wikipedia has less factual errors and inconsistencies than most other major encyclopaedias (such as the Encyclopaedia Britannica). It is a great teaching resource.

  • TAS - 2010-04-25 02:17

    @Omphulusa - great idea on the name Ngwaniwapo - ! I second that!

  • carla - 2010-04-25 14:56

    i agree with that Neil guy(guy who made the 2 comment)God made us not some fish who turned into an ape then a man!

  • Huh - 2010-04-26 08:10

    @BMP I said at the start. I will never understand the hype over a bag of old bones. For me the future is far more important like technology to possibly find another planet like this one that can sustain human life and technology that can carry us to it to start again with what we have learnt about our present disrespect for nature on planet earth. I won't find those kind of answers in bones.

    I guess we just have to agree to disagree about their importance and respect one another's points of views. Something the human race has great difficulty with on a day to day basis in all areas of life.

    People may not believe or do what you (meaning everyone) want them to believe or do but that doesn't make what they believe or do wrong.

    Maybe the people with the thought that the bones mean something and prove evolution may stumble across something profound, maybe they won't. Maybe people who don't believe in evolution but in being created by a divine being, God, may be proved right, maybe they won't. But until that time occurs - I think I will continue living in the present creating a better future for myself and those that cross my everyday path.

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