Australopithecus Sediba

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Perhaps the today's tally to the family of hominines has all scientists in the fields of anthropology engaged in a hot debate involving the validity of Australopithecus Sediba as a unique species as well as the inherent relationship it has to present members of the genus Homo. These members of the homo species are viewed to be about 1.78 to 1.95 million years old. However, this period may now not be considered as a timespan of this species, but it is simply a reference point in the chronology of its life records. The first discovery that links that shows a clear relationship to this species is a fragment of a collarbone, which was discovered by Berger, Mathew, in South Africa’s Malapa region, in the year 2008. This led to subsequent excavations that resulted in the discovery of two more incomplete skeletons (Berger et al. 197). These partial skeletons were found buried nearby, and this led the excavating team to conclude that it is likely that the two bodies die at around the same time. Also, it is probable that the two partial skeletons were entombed before full decomposition.

Based on a combination of derived and primitive characteristics of the fragments found, the team that found them concluded that this was an entirely new species two years later. As a consequence, many more fossils were excavated (Pickering et al. 1421). The critical specimens that were found in South Africa include Malapa Hominine 1, also known as MH1, and this is holotype. This is infantile that is characterized by a partial cranium and lower jaw, also called UW 88-50 and UW88-8 respectively. Also, there are some postcranial rudiments which include a clavicle (Berger et al. 199). In this species, secondary molars appear to have erupted, and scientist believes that at the time of death, about 95 percent of brain capacity had been achieved.

The second specimen is the MH2, which is a likely female since partial bottom jaw embodies it, a series of isolated teeth as well as partial postcranial rudiments including ankle, right arm, parts of the pelvis, knee and shoulder blade. According to the scientist who made the discovery, this is a paratype (Berger et al. 204). Nearly all species that are known today were found in South Africa’s Malapa, which is within 15km of Sterkfontein and Swartkrans.

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The term Australopithecus implies south ape, and it is based on two words; austral, which is Latin, and means southern and pithecus, which is also Greek meaning ape. This name was coined to refer to those species that were found in South Africa (Kivell et al. 1411). However, with time it was extended to other species that show similar characteristics. On the other hand, Sediba stands for fountain or wellspring according to the Sesotho language.

As a result of age as well as overall features, the scientists who made this discovery believe Sediba is a descendant of A. africanus. A closer examination also revealed that there are features that this species shares with Homo, to a greater extent when compared to other species. This strongly suggests that Sediba is closely linked to the Homo Ancestry (Kivell et al. 1413).

Homo’s origin and related ancestors have been the subject of intense debate which is largely unresolved. Assuming that the existing interpretation of this species is accurate, this contributes significantly to the discussion as it would suggest that A. Africanus is a direct ancestor of us humans. It was once thought that A. africanus is a direct ancestor. However, findings in the 1900s led most scientists to place it on a different branch of the evolutionary tree (Pickering et al. 1423).

Most paleontologists believe A. Sediba is a time species of A. Africanus, which means that existing anatomical variations between Sediba and Africanus may be due to changes that occurred over a period, within a species, and not due to the two originating from different species (Kivell et al. 1416). If this argument is correct, then it would mean that Sediba is simply a side branch in our family tree, and this would extend Africanus’ timespan by more than 500,000 years.

Sediba may be differentiated from other species based on some derived and primitive characteristics instead of merely making an identification based on autapomorphies.  Many of the identified features have suggested a closer link to Africanus and even Homo (Kivell et al. 1417). Based on shape and size, Sediba shows similarity with other members of the Australopithecines, and it has been found that they stood at the height of 1.2 meters. They have relatively small sized brains with a capacity of 420cc, and the shape of left and right brain halves show unevenness, which is also the case in Homo (Kibii et al. 1407). Their skull shows minor cresting compared to other Australopithecines.  They have a cranial vault that is closely similar to that of A. africanus. However, the face is devoid of pronouncing cheekbones that are common in Africanus. A. Sediba has a derived mask that is brought about by the structuring of the brow, nose, ridge sockets of the eyes and the cheekbones.  

The teeth and jaws show features that a closely related to those of Africanus. These species lack postcanine exodontia that is prominent in A. Garhi or Paranthropus and their teeth have a similar size to those of Homo (Kibii et al. 1409). The molars and premolars have narrowly spaced with protruding jaws. The foremost end of the bottom jaw is almost vertical with bony chins. A. Sediba is characterized by long forelimbs that tend to retain fundamental characteristics on the rare and forelimbs.

An analysis of culture and lifestyle indicates that there is no notable or documented use of elements. It is believed that A. sediba may have embraced a similar lifestyle to that of A. africanus with a marked adaptation to the same ecological environment. It is likely that they made use of primitive tools like sticks, stones but there is not proof that these tools were worked into specific shapes (Kibii et al. 14011). Further research indicated that A. sediba might have had a brain capacity that would allow them to make use of tools and communicate in a non-verbal manner. It is possible that they could smile. Many paleontologists are not yet persuaded that A. sediba is closely related to H. erectus or even H. Sapien. However, it would be safe to assume that Sediba fills the gap that has existed between H. erectus and Lucy.

It is unlikely that it will matter where this fossil is classified, whether scientist agrees that it a perfect candidate that has a closer connection to H. erectus or whether it shows a progressive process leading to the creation of our genus (Carlson et al. 1402). Over the last 30 years, the view has been that East Africa is the cradle of humanity and the place where the evolution of man first occurred and transitioned to Australopithecus and onto H. erectus. Based on this view, Australopithecus found in South Africa may have been side branched causing them to become extinct.  

The discovery casts this spotlight back to South Africa as the place where the transition from Australopithecus to the Homo took place due to Sediba’s resemblance to its local ancestry (Carlson et al. 1403). Despite the fact that a firm grip characterizes Sediba's hands, they also show human-like proportions, which has led scientists to believe that this species had greater dexterity than any other species. This is also supported by the shape of the face, legs, pelvis, and cavity of the brain, all of which are closer to human features (Carlson et al. 1405). This confirms that of all species, A. Sediba is the closest to the human species and this lends important clues that led to the development of Homo.

Also, it is likely that A. Sediba in Africa took to tool making, they ate meat and even traveled over long distances, and this may have been responsible for the development of features that have a close resemblance to those of humans (Carlson et al. 1407). It seems that various species were co-existing during the same period, an indication of the different experiments on homininism.

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Works Cited

Berger, L R, Ruiter D. J. de, S E. Churchill, P Schmid, K J. Carlson, P H. G. M. Dirks, and J M. Kibii. "Australopithecus Sediba: a New Species of Homo-Like Australopith from South Africa." Science. 328.5975 (2010): 195-204. Print.

Carlson, K.J, T Jashashvili, Ruiter D. J. De, L.R Berger, D Stout, K Carlson, and P Tafforeau. "The Endocast of Mh1, Australopithecus Sediba." Science. 333.6048 (2011): 1402-1407. Print.

Kibii, JM, SE Churchill, P Schmid, KJ Carlson, ND Reed, Ruiter D. J. de, and LR Berger. "A Partial Pelvis of Australopithecus Sediba." Science (New York, N.y.). 333.6048 (2011): 1407-11. Print.

Kivell, TL, JM Kibii, SE Churchill, P Schmid, and LR Berger. "Australopithecus Sediba Hand Demonstrates Mosaic Evolution of Locomotor and Manipulative Abilities." Science (New York, N.y.). 333.6048 (2011): 1411-7. Print.

Pickering, R, P H. G. M. Dirks, Z Jinnah, Ruiter D. J. de, S E. Churchill, An I. R. Herries, J D. Woodhead, J C. Hellstrom, and L R. Berger. "Australopithecus Sediba at 1.977 Ma and Implications for the Origins of the Genus Homo." Science. 333.6048 (2011): 1421-1423. Print.

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