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Creature with Human, Ape Features Reveals How Our Ancestors Walked, Chewed and Moved

Apr 11, 2013 07:59 PM EDT

Using fossil records and the most advanced technology, scientists have reconstructed the anatomy of an ancient offshoot of the human family tree: Australopithecus sediba.

The announcement was made Thursday in a series of six research papers published in the journal Science.

"This is most complete view we've ever had of Australopithecus sediba," said paleoanthropologist Lee Berger, of the University of the Witwatersrand, who authored the articles together with an international team of collaborators.

"We know now how they walked, chewed, and moved nearly two million years ago. [Australopithecus sediba] had a notable feature that differed from that of modern humans-a functionally longer and more flexible lower back."

According to the study, From head-to-toesthos, those early hominids were a collage of primitive and modern anatomy. They had almost-human hands attached to ape-like arms; couple that with a rib cage that was narrow like an ape's at the top but more humanlike lower down; and, finally, a spine that likely had the same number of vertebrae as a human.

Discovered in 2008 at Malapa, near Johannesburg, South Africa, the fossil of Australopithecus sediba is basis of a controversial theory advanced by Berger and his team of collaborators.

The researchers claim that Australopithecus sediba might be even closer to the origin of our lineage, possibly bumping Lucy from the critical evolutionary junction she has occupied for so long.

Anthropologist Scott Williams, lead author of one of the papers about the ancient hominid, said in an interview to "The abundance and remarkable preservation of fossils from Malapa provide unique insights into the way this fascinating extinct species interacted with and moved around in its environment."

They probably walked in a way that we might find strange-a 'compromise' form of bipedalism indicative of a hominin that still partially relied on climbing trees," Williams added.

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