NEW YORK — Scientists have gained new insights into an extinct South African creature with an intriguing mix of human and apelike traits, and apparently an unusual way of walking. But they still haven’t pinned down where it fits on our evolutionary family tree.
It will take more fossil discoveries to sort that out.
The human branch of the evolutionary tree, called Homo, is thought to have arisen from a group of ancient species called australopithecines. The newly studied species is a member of this group, and so its similarities to humans are enticing for tackling the riddle of how Homo appeared.
It’s called Australopithecus sediba, which means “southern ape, wellspring.” It lived some 2 million years ago, and it both climbed in trees and walked upright. Its remains were discovered in 2008 when the 9-year-old son of a paleoanthropologist accidently came across a bone in South Africa.
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