Scientists uncover the oldest complete human ancestor skeleton yet found

Late last year we reported on the remarkable discovery of a new ancient human ancestor, Australopithecus sediba — a finding that re-wrote the science books. Further research revealed that they were tree dwelling creatures who liked to eat tree bark. But given the small clues they left behind, we didn't have much else to go by — that is until now.

Scientists working in South Africa now claim to have uncovered the most complete skeleton yet of this human ancestor. Dated at 2 million years, the remains were found hidden in a rock that were excavated from an archeological site three years ago.

From the Sydney Morning Herald:

The upright-walking tree climber would have been aged between nine and 13 years when he or she died.

"We have discovered parts of a jaw and critical aspects of the body including what appear to be a complete femur [thigh bone], ribs, vertebrae and other important limb elements, some never before seen in such completeness in the human fossil record," said Professor Berger, a lead professor in the finding.

The latest discovery was made in a one-metre-wide rock that lay unnoticed for years in a laboratory until a technician saw a tooth sticking out of the black stone last month.

It was then scanned to reveal significant parts of A.sediba, whose other parts were discovered in 2009 in the world-famous Cradle of Humankind north of Johannesburg.

It is not certain whether the species, which had long arms, a small brain and a thumb, was a direct ancestor of humans' genus, Homo, or simply a close relative.

"It appears that we now have some of the most critical and complete remains of the skeleton," Professor Berger said.

Other team members were equally enthusiastic.

"It's like putting together the pieces of a puzzle," university laboratory manager Bonita de Klerk said.

"It was in packing this [stone] up in the vehicle to go and be scanned that one of our technicians actually noticed a tooth sticking out on the surface and he called Lee over and said, 'Oh, I think this is a hominid tooth', and he was right."

Read more about this amazing discovery at SMH.

Image above via Sydney Morning Herald and National Geographic.

H/t to Redditor Laughingstok.