A pair of skeletons dug up a decade ago were initially thought to be from two different hominin species, but new research claims that they are, in fact, from the same species.
The skeletons — named Malapa Hominin 1 (male) and Malapa Hominin 2 (female) — were unearthed from a site in South Africa, the cradle of life. Both skeletons are dated to be around 2 million years old.
The research appears in the journal PaleoAnthropology as part of a comprehensive series focusing on the Australopithecus sediba (A. sediba), a hominin species first discovered in South Africa in 2008.
Malapa Skeletons Were From The Same Species
Over the past decade, researchers have been piecing together the pair of skeletons, which is said to be more complete than the famous "Lucy" unearthed in Ethiopia. They analyzed a total of 135 fossils, including the skull, upper and lower lums, vertebral column, thorax, and pelvis.
Their most important discovery is that A. sediba is a species that is distinct from the A. africanus and early members of the genus Homo, like the H. habilis. However, the newfound species shares some features with both groups, which means that all three have a "close evolutionary relationship."
Scientists initially thought that MH1 and MH2 were from different species because of their differences in the lumbar vertebrae. However, the new analysis from the researchers on PaleoAnthropology found that the differences were because the individuals were not of the same age.
One of the skeletons belonged to a juvenile whose lumbar vertebrate was not fully developed yet.
"As it happens, the two Homo erectus skeletons we have are juveniles, so MH1 looks more similar to them because it too is a juvenile," explained Scott Williams, an anthropologist from New York University who co-edited the journal.
The skeletons were discovered by Lee Berger, a professor in the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa.
More Information About The New Hominin Species
The researchers also believed that the A. sediba spent a lot of time climbing trees, either to forage for food or evade predators.
"This larger picture sheds light on the lifeways of A. sediba and also on a major transition in hominin evolution, that of the largely ape-like species included broadly in the genus Australopithecus to the earliest members of our own genus, Homo," explained Williams.