21 February 2011
South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand has handed over replicas of the famous Australopithecus Sediba to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC as a gift for public display and research.
According to the Department of Science and Technology, the casts of these skeletons – which include two complete copies for public display as well as two copies for research – represent a free exchange of information between researchers in South Africa and the National Museum of the United States of America.
The Department welcomed the donation of the casts to the museum, which took place on 10 February, saying that it helped in fostering closer research collaborations between the two countries and their respective institutions.
New human ancestor species
Australopithecus Sediba was announced in April of 2010 as a new species of early human ancestor. The first specimens announced represent the two most complete skeletons of early hominids ever discovered, and have been referred to as one of the most important discoveries ever in the search for human origins in Africa.
The palaeontological donation represents a free exchange of scientific and cultural information in a field generally not known for this, and forms part of the mission to share Africa’s priceless heritage of human origins with the rest of the world.
Raising awareness abroad
This is the second time the fossils will be displayed overseas to raise awareness of the country’s fossil heritage. South Africa donated replicas of the fossil find to two museums in China last year, during the Shanghai World Expo.
Discovered in 2008 by a team led by Wits Professor Lee Berger, Australopithecus Sediba has stimulated enormous public interest around the world, as well as renewed scientific interest in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site outside Johannesburg, where the discovery was made.
The fossils are of an adolescent male, dubbed Karabo, and a mature female, found relatively close to one another, and dated to between 1.95 and 1.78-million years ago in the early Pleistocene.
The public can find out more about various discoveries in the area by visiting Maropeng, the official visitor centre of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site.
African Origins Programme
The Department supports palaeosciences through the African Origins Programme, initiated to develop the field and provide scientists with the required tools to become leaders in their field through research grants, outreach and awareness programmes, and student support initiatives.
Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor said that no other country in the world could boast the oldest evidence of life on earth extending back more than three billion years, the oldest multi-cellular animals, the oldest land-living plants, the most distant ancestors of dinosaurs and, together with several other African countries, a most remarkable record of human origins and of human achievements through the last eight million years.
“The fossils are of immense value in assisting South Africa to appreciate our scientists and their abilities, and the fact that Africa has made a significant contribution to the evolution of humanity,” she said.
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