We have completed maintenance on DiscoverMagazine.com and action may be required on your account. Learn More

#34: Our Jumbled Ancestor

By Laurie Rich Salerno
Dec 16, 2010 6:00 AMNov 12, 2019 6:24 AM
Bret Eloff/Courtesy WITS University | NULL


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

When paleoanthropologist Lee Berger unearthed a fossil near Johannesburg, South Africa, it seemed to be a jumble of parts: a braincase similar in size to that of an Australopithecus africanus, a Homo erectus pelvis, and the arms of a Miocene ape. But in April Berger announced that they all belonged to the same skeleton, that of a 12-year-old boy who lived 1.9 million years ago. The boy, called Karabo, may represent a bridge species between our Homo genus and its Australopithecus ancestor.

Berger thinks Karabo and an adult female found nearby represent a new hominid species, Australopithecus sediba, that may have been the first to walk upright the way modern humans do. A. sediba had long, apelike arms; a braincase one-third the size of a modern human’s; and a modern-looking pelvis that suggests it was a better upright walker than previous australopithecines.

Others contend the two are not human ancestors at all because they appeared around 400,000 years after the first evidence of H. habilis, the earliest in the Homo line. “Sediba is too late to sit on the lineage,” says paleoanthropologist Tim White of the University of California, Berkeley. Berger counters that the only fossils that can be definitively classified as H. habilis showed up after A. sediba. “Australopithecus sediba is the best candidate for a transitional species,” he argues. “It’s more advanced than Homo habilis, which appears later. It probably means Homo habilis is not really an ancestor of anything.”

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2024 Kalmbach Media Co.