Exact fossil replicas of two of the most complete skeletons of early human relatives ever found have been donated to the Natural History Museum in London, of which the skull is on display from today.
Replicas of the A. sediba skeletons donated to the Museum. The 1.98million year old fossils are the most complete skeletons of early human relatives ever found.
The ancient human-like species, Australopithecus sediba, is 1.98 million years old and could be the ancestor to the first humans.
The skeleton casts have been donated by the University of the Witwatersrand and the Government of the Republic of South Africa.
'This will be the first public exhibition of this early human-like species in the UK,' says Museum Director Dr Michael Dixon.
'This gift gives us an opportunity to show these spectacular finds to the public and for researchers and students to study them.'
The remarkable remains were uncovered from caves at Malapa, South Africa, and they were unveiled in April 2010 by Professor Lee Berger of the Institute for Human Evolution at Wits University and colleagues.
Cast of the hand of A. sediba - it shows human proportions, suggesting greater dexterity.
Australopithecines are known as ‘southern apes’ and shared similarities with both apes and humans.
A. sediba had an ape-sized brain and ape-like body shape but also human-like characteristics in its hands, face, teeth, pelvis, and shape of front brain cavity.
At nearly 2 million years old, A. sediba lived at a time when the first humans (genus Homo) evolved. It is the most human-like australopithecine ever discovered and may be a transitional species, giving scientists a snapshot of evolution in action showing a transition of Australopithecus to Homo.
Professors Lee Berger and Chris Stringer at the A. sediba hand-over event
'Australopithecus sediba has a critical role in shaping our understanding about the route of human evolution,' says Professor Chris Stringer, human origins expert at the Museum and author of the new book The Origin of Our Species. 'A. sediba provides valuable clues to the evolutionary changes that led to the genus Homo.'
A. sediba's discovery in South Africa also shifts the likely origins of modern humans away from East Africa.
'Given that even more material is being excavated,' says Stringer, 'we will undoubtedly learn a lot more from the Malapa site about the evolutionary processes that led to the first humans'.
The replica skull will be on display in the Museum's special display case in Dinosaur Way from 3:30pm today.
Model of what Australopithecus sediba may have looked like © Courtesy of National Geographic, August 2011 issue /Reconstruction by John Gurche/ Photo by Brett Stirton
Professors Chris Stringer and Lee Berger take part in a special free event at the Museum called Meet the Ancestor at 2:30pm today. They will discuss how the fossils were found and how the remains fit into the story of human evolution in this Nature Live event.
Chris Stringer presents this year's Annual Science Lecture, The Origin of Our Species at the Museum on 30 November, 7:30pm. He addresses the big questions about the evolution of our species in the wonderful setting of the Central Hall. Tickets are £14.50, £11 with concessions.
Giant squid, spiders dating, plants that bite and parasitoid wasps are just some of the subjects of our daily Nature Live talks and events in the Attenborough Studio.