Thursday, October 8, 2009

Big new find at Sterkfontein

The Times reports on a big new find at Sterkfontein, ‘The Cradle of Mankind’. Alas, we don’t know what’s been found, as the scientists are keeping it secret until they’re ready to publish. An excerpt:
This much can be revealed: new fossil discoveries have been made by Berger in the Cradle of Humankind. The discovery was disclosed to Parliament a few months ago. President Jacob Zuma recently took a break from his busy schedule to visit Wits to view these new items. So, we know we’re talking about something big. So big, the paleontological world is buzzing with excitement and there is widespread speculation that they will provide new clues to the evolutionary puzzle.
But none of this brings us any closer to answering the question: what precisely has been found? A possible pointer lies in the involvement of Thackeray. The professor has increasingly focused his interest on the field of variability, in size and shape, examining the areas of human evolution where the boundaries start to break down. Modern humans share 98% of their genes with chimpanzees. Studies involving the rate of mutation of DNA have produced a virtual molecular clock, indicating that the chimpanzee/human split occurred somewhere between 5million and 7million years ago. Subsequently, the hominins also split into branches. Several different hominin species have been found at Sterkfontein alone and three major tool cultures have been identified.
Via: John Hawks.

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