Homo sapiens may still be the only extant human species, however, relatives of humans have been emerging. The latest to be uncovered by South Africa are fossils of Australopithecus sediba and Homo naledi and they are to debut in Dallas, Texas this October.
In 2008, eight-year-old Matthew Berger, made history when he discovered the Australopithecus sediba fossils. As at the time of discovery, the fossils were some of the most complete hominin skeletons.
The hominin mammals are said to be the last common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees and they are big-brained, bipedal mammals with erect posture and can communicate through language. Some hominin species exhibit traits that are typical of humans but are not seen in the other living ape.
The oldest hominins currently known are Sahelanthropus tchadensis from Chad and Orrorin tugenensis from Kenya. Sahelanthropus is known from a largely complete skull and some other fragmentary remains and though no skulls of Orrorin have been recovered, both the canine teeth of male Orrorin and Sahelanthropus are larger and more pointed than in modern humans.
However, this is not the case with their closely related cousin Homo naledi and Australopithecus sediba whose teeth look a lot like the modern human’s teeth.
These human ancestors which are now South African treasures were unearthed in South Africa by a Wits University team led by Wits University Professor Lee Berger, Perot Museum’s Becca Peixotto, as well as the director and research scientist of the Center for the Exploration of the Human Journey.
Homo naledi and Australopithecus sediba’s discovery was announced in 2015 by Wits University’s Rising Star expedition team and during the Nelson Mandela Day celebrations, Wits University confirmed that these fossils will be on public display in a ground-breaking exhibition in Dallas, Texas, over a five-month period beginning in October.
“We are excited to share these South African national treasures, of which Wits University is the custodian, to audiences across the world. Science should have no boundaries and our collective knowledge must be made available. These fossils are evidence of our common origins and the research and knowledge thereof must transcend institutional, national and even disciplinary boundaries so that they mark a path to a collective future defined by human solidarity. Our partnership with the Perot Museum is built in this spirit, and we look forward to enhancing it in the coming years,” Adam Habib, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Wits University stated.