Scientists may have discovered a new branch on your family tree.
A team of researchers working in South Africa has unearthed what they believe are the remains of a previously unknown species predating modern humans. They recently discovered a couple of partial skeletons — an adult female and a juvenile male — that are nearly 2 million years old.
The two are believed to have been significantly taller and potentially stronger than “Lucy,” the roughly 3 million year old skeleton discovered in Ethiopia in 1974.
Known as “Australopithecus sediba,” the pair may provide a window into a previously little-defined period in human evolution.
“Australopithecus” means “southern ape,” the researchers noted. “Sediba” refers to a “natural spring” or “fountain” in Sotho, a local language in South Africa.
The discovery of the remains was akin to stepping into a time machine, said Dr. Lee Berger from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. It’s providing a “really a special look into hominid evolution at that time,” he told reporters.
Hominids are part of the biological family that includes humans, gorillas and chimpanzees.
The two skeletons, discovered in the remains of a collapsed cave, were not alone. At least two more partial skeletons have been discovered but not yet dug out, Berger said.
Berger and other researchers, including Dr. Paul Dirks from Australia’s James Cook University, believe the pair may have fallen into the cave while searching for water. Their remains were washed into an underground pool and eventually entombed in rock in South Africa’s Malapa cave complex.