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Bones in South African cave establish new link in chain of mankind

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A species of early human has been discovered in a South African cave, shedding light on a critical period during which our ancestors began to walk upright, use tools and develop a capacity for language.

Scientists say the two million-year-old fossilised skeleton is from a previously unknown type of hominid, the evolutionary branch of primates that led to humans. The new species could be an intermediate stage between ape-like hominids and the first species of advanced humans, Homo habilis.

The child’s skeleton and bones belonging to several adults were found by experts from the University of the Witwatersrand. Lee Berger and his colleagues made the discovery while exploring cave systems in the Sterkfontein area, near Johannesburg.

President Zuma of South Africa has visited the university to view the fossils. But within the scientific community Professor Berger's team have kept the find under wraps, and only a few scientists have viewed the specimens.

Phillip Tobias, an eminent human anatomist and anthropologist at the university, who was one of those who in 1964 identified Homo habilis as a new species of human, told the Sunday Telegraph that the latest discovery was exciting.

“To find a skeleton as opposed to a couple of teeth or an arm bone is a rarity,” Professor Tobias said. “It is one thing to find a lower jaw with a couple of teeth, but it is another thing to find the jaw joined to the skull, and those in turn uniting further down with the spinal column, pelvis and the limb bones.

“It is not a single find, but several specimens representing several individuals. The remains now being brought to light by Dr Berger and his team are wonderful.”
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