For years since the theory of evolution became mainstream, fossils have been searched for that could explain the gap between mankind and the common ancestor they share with apes. The hominid species was represented with a completely fossilized skeleton of a two million year old child. And they found that it may just be the answer to decades worth of digging and researching, and may answer one of the greatest questions mankind has ever faced.
There are serious gaps in the history of human evolution. Only in the past 100 years have many of these gaps been filled, but the direct branch where Simian first separated from what would later become modern apes and what would become modern man was always elusive. Key factors scientists have been looking for were numerous, but included when our ancestors first started walking on two legs.
As most hominid skeletons are left in disarray, often little more than a few fragmented bones or shattered splinters that are often overlooked or of little scientific value after millions of years of weathering and natural destruction. The complete skeleton will allow for more direct translation of the evolutionary traits that first defined human beings and may help to explain where humanity first started radically differing from other organisms on the planet.
Professor Lee Berger, a Witwatersrand professor discovered the remains while exploring an intricate system of caves in South Africa’s Sterkfontein region just north of Johannesburg. Due to beliefs that the region was the originator of mankind, paleontologists have dubbed the region “the Cradle of Humanity.” Of course the discovery is of such great human import that even president Jacob Zuma of South Africa has visited Sterkfontein to observe the skeleton.
The skeleton was discovered in the breccia sedimentary rock within a structure known as Malapa cave along with several other fossils from the time period. Thanks to the cave’s enclosed and sturdy structure, millions of years of harsh environmental shifts protected the cave and its inhabitants, or rather their remains.
As scientific theories stand, mankind descended from Austrolopithicus which then beget Homo habilis. But a lot happened in the million or so years between the two species, and scientists have been looking for an intermediary species to explain the upright gait and increased brain capacity for some time. If this new skeleton is discovered to fill that gap, the repercussions throughout the scientific community will be immense. And modern man will finally get to know a long lost ancestor in its family tree. Of additional interest will be cultural developments as the fossilized remains discovered around the skeleton will be scrutinized. Any rudimentary tools and signs of primitive civilization will go a long way toward discovering early culture, if they too survive and will be of immense anthropological interest to scientists worldwide.
Humanity’s interest in its biological origins is a journey of self discovery, and perhaps with increased knowledge in our origins there can be a better understanding of our origins and perhaps indirectly provide insight into where humanity is heading.