Scientists from the Wits Institute for Human Evolution based at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg have just announced the discovery of a large rock containing significant parts of a skeleton of an early human ancestor. The skeleton is believed to be the remains of 'Karabo', the type skeleton of Australopithecus sediba, discovered at the Malapa Site in the Cradle of Humankind in 2009.
Professor Lee Berger, a Reader in Palaeoanthropology and the Public Understanding of Science at the Wits Institute for Human Evolution, will make the announcement at the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum in Shanghai, China on 13 July 2012.
"We have discovered parts of a jaw and critical aspects of the body including what appear to be a complete femur (thigh bone), ribs, vertebrae and other important limb elements, some never before seen in such completeness in the human fossil record," says Berger. "This discovery will almost certainly make Karabo the most complete early human ancestor skeleton ever discovered. We are obviously quite excited as it appears that we now have some of the most critical and complete remains of the skeleton, albeit encased in solid rock. It's a big day for us as a team and for our field as a whole."
The remains are invisible to the casual observer and are entrenched in a large rock about one metre in diameter. It was discovered almost three years ago, but lay unnoticed in the Wits laboratories until early last month. Prof. Berger and his wife Jackie Smilg, a radiologist at the Charlotte Maxeke Hospital, who is conducting her PhD on the CT scanning of fossil material embedded in rock, scanned the large rock in a state of the art CT scanner.
Berger added that negotiations had begun with the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum, the Natural History Museum in the United Kingdom and the Smithsonian in Washington. "We have already donated casts of Australopithecus sediba to these three institutions, amongst others," says Berger.