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International Team Discovers New Species in Progression of Human Evolution

A&M researcher says 2-million-year-old remains show strong support of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection

2-million-year-old skeletal remains found by a team of scientists that included Texas A&M researchers indicate a new type of species that played a role in human evolution.

In 2010 the team, comprised of researchers from the United States, Africa, Europe and Australia, discovered skeletal remains in a South African cave located about 30 miles from Johannesburg and dated to about 1.98 million years ago. The team named the new species Australopithecus sediba and showed that it displayed a mosaic of both human-like and ape-like characteristics shared with other forms of Australopithecus and modern-day humans.

Close examination of the lower jawbone, teeth and skeleton of the remains proves conclusively that it is uniquely different from a closely related species, Australopithecus africanus. Dr. Darryl de Ruiter, associate professor in the Texas A&M University Department of Anthropology, is the lead author or co-author in a series of six papers detailing the findings of Australopithecus sediba in the current issue of Science magazine. The news is also detailed in Nature.

“We examined the remains and found several distinct individuals – possibly representing a family group. They all seemed to have died suddenly in the same event about 1.98 million years ago, but the remains are in surprisingly good shape.”

de Ruiter adds that the findings “show very strong support of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.”

In 2012, several of these same researchers, including de Ruiter, proved that Australopithecus sediba had a forest-based diet of leaves, fruits, nuts and bark, one similar to that of a present-day chimp. The diet of early Australopithecus is a key component central to the study of human origins.

The team’s work was funded by the South African National Research Foundation, the Palaeontological Scientific Trust, the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation Baldwin Fellowship, the National Geographic Society, the Institute for Human Evolution at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, the Program to Enhance Scholarly and Creative Activities and the International Research Travel Assistance Grant of Texas A&M, and the Ray A. Rothrock ’77 Fellows Program in the College of Liberal Arts at Texas A&M.

You can support research like this in the College of Liberal Arts at Texas A&M University with the gift of an endowment to the Texas A&M Foundation. Request your A&M Support Kit to learn how you can help.

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Larry Walker ’97
Director of Development
College of Liberal Arts
(979) 458-1304

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