Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Australopithecus sediba: Sesotho word “sediba” means “fountain”

Australopithecus sediba was discovered in an African miner's pit in August 2008 by Lee Berger, a paleoanthropologist at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits University) in Johannesburg, South Africa [1]: Berger and his team found over 200 bones at that site north of Johannesburg. He named this location Malapa site based on the local Sesotho language, in which Malapa means “homestead.”  The Sesotho language also is the source for the scientific species name: sediba means “fountain”or “wellspring” [1] and can also be understood as “origin.” The common name for A. sedibas became “Karabo.” This name—meaning “answer” in Setswana language—was chosen by Omphemetse Keepile (a 17-year-old student from St. Mary's School in Johannesburg), who submitted the name for a competition and won [2].

The age of the fossil remains have been dated to about two million years ago.  The Malapa fossils include a large number of diverse body parts, some of them with traits that suggest a close relationship to modern humans, while others point towards the “opposite direction” of a closer connection with australopithecines.

Did A. sediba give direct rise to Homo erectus? On the time axis, A. sediba finds its place between very early hominids such as Ramapithecus and younger hominids such as Pithecanthropus erectus, now known as Homo erectus. Controversial viewpoints of how to fit A. sediba into the lineage of human ancestry are currently discussed. Certainly, Karabo provides new answers (and questions) as well as fresh interest in understanding the origins of humankind.

Keywords: paleontology, anatomy, hominids, primates, human evolution, nomenclature, Sotho-Tswana languages, Southern Bantu languages.

References and more to study and explore
[1] Kate Wong: First of Our Kind. Scientific American April 2012, 306 (4), pp. 30-39  [].
[2] Australopithecus sediba fossil named by 17-year-old Johannesburg student. June 4, 2010 [].

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