Two million year old skeletons discovered

November 18th, 2011 - 8:08 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Nov 18 (IANS) Two skeletons, nearly two million years old, still seem to bear a coating of skin on their bare bones which would provide scientists a unique insight into the lifestyles of the people then.

They are two of the intact skeletons of early human kin ever found, donated to London’s Natural History Museum by the University of Witwatersrand and the South African government.

The 1.9-million-year-old fossils are named Australopithecus sediba and have been studied by Lee Berger, professor at the Institute for Human Evolution at Wits University, according to the Daily Mail.

What’s exciting experts is that uniquely, the bones appear to be mummified with a very thin film of skin. Should it be present, then it may be possible for scientists to study its DNA and protein and make a huge leap forward in understanding how our ancestors lived.

There are very few conditions that would allow for the preservation of skin but if the two skeletons - that of a woman and a child - died in a pool of oxygen-less water, then it’s possible for decay to be prevented.

“This gift gives us an opportunity to show these spectacular finds to the public and for researchers and students to study them,” Natural History Museum director Michael Dixon said.

A skull of one of the casts has gone on display to showcase the new acquisition. This will be the first public exhibition of this early human-like species in Britain.

For the last 30 years, attention has been focused on East Africa as the place where the first humans (genus Homo) evolved, with a possible transition from australopithecus to homo erectus via the intermediate species Homo habilis occurring around two million years ago.

In that view, the South African australopithecines were side-branches in human evolution, leading only to extinction.

New and detailed descriptions of the skeletons of these two individuals from the Malapa site were released in September, and returned the spotlight to South Africa as the possible location for the postulated transition from australopithecus to homo.

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