The fossils of our earlier human ancestors, located in a cave in South Africa, are a million years older than previously understood according to a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
The researchers analysed the fossilised remains of Australopithecus from Sterkfontein caves and argued they lived at the same time as their East African counterparts like the famous Lucy, complicating the way scholars have understood human evolution.
What is Australopithecus?
- Australopithecus, meaning “southern ape”, was a group of hominins or now-extinct early humans, that was closely related to and almost certainly the ancestors of modern humans.
- They inhabited the planet 4.4 million to 1.4 million years ago, likely encompassing a time period longer than our own genus, Homo. Their fossils have been found across sites in eastern, northern, central and southern Africa.
What are the Sterkfontein caves?
- The “Cradle of Humankind” is a 47,000-hectare paleoanthropological site, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
- Located 40 km northwest of Johannesburg (South Africa), it contains a complex system of limestone caves, where a significant number of hominin fossils have been found.
- Within this complex lies Sterkfontein, a complex system of caves that holds a long history of hominin occupation and contains the largest number of Australopithecus fossils in the world.