Three newly discovered South African hominids—an 11-year-old child, an infant, and a 30-year-old mother—and dubbed Australopithecus sediba, are a very big deal: they represent a hominid transition perhaps every bit as important as “Lucy” (if not more so) in offering clues to our human origins. The three recovered creatures entered a cave together and perhaps died of thirst. The animals did not use fire, and so ate raw meat. And though they could walk upright, they also had orangutan-length arms that could move them through trees. In short, they appear to be a blend of human and ape features: a transitional species.
And the 11-year-old, discovered first, was, serendipitously, stumbled upon by a 9-year-old—the son of American paleoanthropologist Lee Berger—making this, as it were, the Dead Sea Scroll find of hominid evolution. Below is a quote from Bob Simon of “60 Minutes.” For the sake of symmetry, he gets the age of the hominid wrong, but you get the idea:
So a 9-year-old boy came across another 9-year-old boy who lived almost 2 million years earlier. As a colleague of mine said while witnessing the fall of the Berlin Wall: “I smell a story.”
And here’s the story as we have it now:
Never before have hominids of that age been found in such good condition. Scientists are convinced they belong to a previously undiscovered species and that they will provide new clues about where we came from. Their long legs indicate that they could walk upright. Their long arms and strong hands suggest that they also felt at home in trees and would climb them when threatened by predators, such as saber-toothed cats. Their brains are a lot smaller than ours, meaning that a lot of evolution still had to happen before the invention of the iPad. But [American paleoanthropologist Lee] Berger believes it’s possible they could use tools of some sort, probably made of stone. He also firmly believes that they are our ancestors, lying on the same branch of our family tree. He places them about halfway between the ape and us. That’s why he names them “Australopithecus Sediba,” which translates as “southern ape, source,” indicating their relation to apes and to the human genus.
Here’s Lee Berger, an obviously proud father, telling his compelling story of the discovery, and of his son’s historic role: