Cradle of Humankind

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Coordinates: 25°58′02″S 27°39′45″E / 25.96716°S 27.66245°E / -25.96716; 27.66245

Skull of a juvenile male Australopithecus sediba

The Cradle of Humankind is a World Heritage Site. It was first named by UNESCO in 1999. The site is about 50 kilometres northwest of Johannesburg, South Africa in the Gauteng province, and occupies 47,000 hectares (180 sq mi).[1]

The site's limestone caves, including the Sterkfontein Caves, were where fossils were found. A 2.3-million year-old fossil Australopithecus africanus (nicknamed 'Mrs. Ples') was found in 1947 by Robert Broom and John T. Robinson. The find followed the 1924 discovery of the juvenile Australopithecus africanus skull, 'Taung Child', by Raymond Dart, at Taung in the North West Province of South Africa, where excavations still continue.

The name Cradle of Humankind reflects the fact that the site has produced a large number, as well as some of the oldest, hominid fossils ever found, some dating back as far as 3.5 million years ago.[2] Sterkfontein alone has produced more than a third of early hominid fossils ever found.[3]

Recent work[change | edit source]

The remains of several partial skeletons of a previously unknown Australopithecan species were found in 2008 near Johannesburg.[4] They have been dated to about two million year ago (mya). A recent re-examination of two partial skeletons of Australopithecus sediba has led to its identification as close to the origin of the genus Homo.[5] Not all palaeoanthropologists agree this is a new species.[6]

A new analysis shows this species had a human-like pelvis, hands and teeth, and a chimpanzee-like foot. In six separate research reports, palaeontologists reported on the anatomy of a juvenile male skeleton, MH1, a female skeleton, known as MH2, and an isolated adult tibia or shinbone, known as MH4. The findings suggest that some species of australopithecine climbed trees, some walked on the ground, and some did both.[7]

"Its small heel resembles that of a chimpanzee more than it does a human. This suggests it likely walked with an inward rotation of the knee and hip, with its feet slightly twisted. This primitive way of walking might have been a compromise between upright walking and tree climbing, the researchers suggest, since A. sediba seems to have had more adaptations for tree-climbing than other australopithecines".[7]

Colleagues in England investigated the teeth. Like other parts of the skeleton, the teeth are a mosaic of primitive and human-like features.[8]

References[change | edit source]

  1. About Maropeng [1]
  2. Fleminger, David (2008). The Cradle of Humankind. 30° South Publishers. pp. 7–10. ISBN 0958489130.
  3. Smith, David (15 January 2010). "Visit to the Cradle of Humankind". London: The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jan/15/sterkfontein-caves-south-africa. Retrieved 2010-05-20.
  4. Berger L.R. et al 2010. Australopithecus sediba: a new species of Homo-like australopith from South Africa. Science 328 (5975): 195–204.
  5. Amos, Jonathan 2011. African fossils put new spin on human origins story. BBC News [2]
  6. Cherry, Michael 2010. Claim over 'human ancestor' sparks furore: researchers dispute that hominin fossil is a new species. Nature News. [3]
  7. 7.0 7.1 Team reconstructs 'human ancestor'. BBC News Science & Environment. [4]
  8. Kivell T.L. et al 2011. Australopithecus sediba hand demonstrates mosaic evolution of locomotor and manipulative abilities. Science 333 (6048): 1411–1417. [5]
This article is about a World Heritage Site