Thursday, Dec. 09, 2010

Meet the Ancestors

You never knew the woman and boy who were entombed in an avalanche of sediment in South Africa's Malapa cave some 2 million years ago, but spare them a thought since they might have been kin. Described in the journal Science in April, the fossils could fill an important spot in the evolutionary arc of humans, since there's little skeletal evidence of what was going on at that particular moment in our history. Paleontologists disagree about the significance of the new species, dubbed Australopithecus sediba — and some believe it was an evolutionary dead end that has little to do with us. But its intriguing mix of ancient and comparatively modern skeletal features at least suggests that it was a direct ancestor of Homo erectus, which in turn is a direct ancestor of Homo sapiens, a group that includes you, your plumber and everyone in your car pool.