An international team has found a two-million-year-old skeleton of a child, which it claims belongs to a new species of hominid that may have been an intermediate stage as apemen evolved into advanced humans known as Homo habilis.
According to the palaeontologists, the skeleton shares characteristics with Homo habilis, whose emergence 2.5 million years ago is seen as a key stage in the evolution of humans. The team, led by Lee Berger of the University of Witwatersrand, found the skeleton while exploring cave systems in the Sterkfontein region of South Africa, near Johannesburg, an area known as "the Cradle of Humanity".
Phillip Tobias, an eminent human anatomist and anthropologist at the university who was one of three experts to first identify Homo habilis as a new species of human in 1964, described the discovery as "wonderful" and "exciting".
"To find a skeleton as opposed to a couple of teeth or an arm bone is a rarity. It is one thing to find a lower jaw with a couple of teeth, but it is another thing to find the jaw joined onto the skull, and those in turn uniting further down with the spinal column, pelvis and the limb bones.
"It is not a single find, but several specimens representing several individuals. The remains now being brought to light by Dr Berger and his team are wonderful", the Daily Telegraph quoted him as saying.
The skeleton was found along with a number of other partially complete fossils, encased within breccia rock inside a limestone cave known as Malapa cave. Simon Underdown, an expert on human evolution, said the new finding could help scientists gain a better understanding of our evolutionary tree.
The discovery is the most important find from Sterkfontein since an almost-complete fossil of a 3.3-million- year-old Australopithecus, nicknamed Little Foot, was found in 1994.
The article is published by http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com