New, Ancient Fossils of Human-like Ancestors Discovered

First Posted: Feb 12, 2016 09:07 AM EST

Researchers have discovered two new hominin fossils in a previously uninvestigated chamber in the Sterkfontein Caves in South Africa. The new discovery could shed some light on human's ancient ancestors.

The two new specimens, which include a finger bone and a molar, are part of a set of four specimens, which seem to be from early hominins that can be associated with early stone tool-bearing sediments.

"The specimens are exciting not only because they are associated with early stone tools, but also because they possess a mixture of intriguing features that raise many more questions than they give answers," said Dominic Stratford, one of the researchers, in a news release.

The first fossil is a large proximal finger bone and is much larger and more robust than any hand bone of any other hominin yet found in South African plio-pleistocene sites.

"It is almost complete and shows a really interesting mix of modern and archaic features," said Stratford. "For example, the specimen is markedly curved-more curved than Homo naledi and is similarly curved to the much older species Australopithecus afarensis."

While the level of curvature is usually associated with a tree-dwelling species, researchers found that it lacked the strong muscle attachments that are expected to be present.

The other fossil is a nearly complete adult first molar tooth that also has striking similarities to Homo habilis. It suggests that the molar belonged to an early member of the Homo genus and could be associated with early stone tools.

The new fossils reveal a bit more about these ancient hominins. They also bring researchers one step closer to tracing the evolutionary path of humans.

The findings are published in the Journal of Human Evolution.

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