New analysis has shown that an ancient relative of humankind lived in South Africa 2 million years ago and walked as a human, but could climb like an ape.

Scientists said the discovery of new lower back fossils belonging to Australopithecus sediba had settled a decades old debate about how early hominins moved.

A curved spine was found in the’missing connection’, which suggests that this species spent most of their time on its two feet, and also used their upper limbs for climbing like apes. 

New York University’s University of the Witwatersrand and Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand led an international research team that used bone fragments from South African caverns to construct one of the best-preserved back fossils of any hominin.

Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand was the first to describe Australopithecus sediba.

Australopithecus sediba (pictured), an ancient human relative that lived in South Africa two million years ago, walked like a human but climbed like an ape, new analysis has revealed

New analysis has shown that Australopithecus Sediba, an ancient human relative, was able to walk like a person but climb like an ape.

Scientists said the discovery of new lower back fossils (pictured) belonging to Australopithecus sediba had settled a decades old debate about how early hominins moved

Scientists believe that Australopithecus sediba’s discovery of fossils at the lower back (pictured) has resolved decades old controversy about whether early hominins evolved.

Professor Berger and his then nine-year-old son Matthew had found the first remains of the extinct species in the Malapa cave, which were later identified as a male child called Karabo and an adult female. 

These fossils were found during 2015 excavations of a trackway for mining that ran near Malapa, in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site north-west of Johannesburg. 

The four vertebrae are located at the female’s lower back, and the sacrum is a bone connecting the spine and pelvis. Swahili for ‘protector’, the team named the female Issa. 

It was also discovered that sediba only had five lumbar vertebrae, just like human beings.

Professor Scott Williams of New York University, the lead author, said that the lumbar region was crucial to understand bipedalism and how early ancestors were able to walk on two feet.

The ‘Associated Series of Lumbar Vertebrae is Extremely Rare in the Hominin Fossil Record, With Only Three Similar Lower Spines from the Early African Record.

The 'missing link' revealed a curved spine, suggesting the species spent a lot of time walking on two legs, as well as using their upper limbs to climb like apes

A curved spine was found in the’missing connection’, which suggests that this species spent most of their time on its two feet, and also used their upper limbs for climbing like apes.

Australopithecus sediba (pictured) was first described in 2010 by Lee Berger and his team at the University of the Witwatersrand

Lee Berger (pictured) and his University of the Witwatersrand team first identified Australopithecus Sediba.


Four major studies in recent times have changed the way we view our  ancestral history.

Simons Genome Diversity Project Study

Researchers have concluded after analysing DNA data from 142 countries around the globe that every modern person can be traced back to an African group that originated 200,000 years earlier.

The researchers also discovered that non-Africans are all descended from one group, which split around 130,000 years ago from African hunters gatherers.

It also revealed that Africans appear to be isolated and have separated from their fellow inhabitants.

South Africa’s KhoeSan, for instance, separated from Nigeria’s Yoruba approximately 87,000 years ago. In contrast to the Yoruba which split 56,000 years ago from the Mbuti.

Study by the Estonian Biocentre Human Genome Diversity Panel

We analyzed 483 genomes from around the world, 148 individuals and examined the evolution of Homo Sapiens outside of Africa.

The researchers discovered that two percent of the genomes of modern Papua New Guinea’s indigenous population are derived from a group now extinct of Homo sapiens.

These numbers suggest that there was an influx of people from Africa approximately 120,000 years ago.

Aboriginal Australian studies

The study examined genetic history of early Pacific Pacific population using genomes taken from 83 Aboriginal Australians, 25 Papuans and New Guinea.

The thought that these groups may have come from the first Africans to leave Africa raises questions as to whether they were ancestors of an earlier migration wave than those in Eurasia.

A new study has revealed that the ancestors modern Aboriginal Australians & Papuans separated from Europeans and Asians 58,000 years ago, following a single migration to Africa.

They diverged later around 37,000 year ago. This was long before Australia and New Guinea separated physically some 10,000 years ago.

Climate Modelling

Researchers from the University of Hawaii at Mānoa used one of the first integrated climate-human migration computer models to re-create the spread of Homo sapiens over the past 125,000 years.

This model, which simulates abrupt climate changes and ice-ages and the arrival of Homo sapiens from the Eastern Mediterranean and Arabian Peninsulas, captures Homo sapiens’ arrival time in Australia. It is in agreement with paleoclimate reconstructions, fossil and archaeological evidence.

Researchers discovered that the modern world was first inhabited by humans 100,000 years ago. This is despite a slow migration wave.

The researchers believe that Homo sapiens arrived in Europe about 80,000 to 90,000 years before the rest of humanity. This is a far more recent estimate than was previously thought.

These results are challenging traditional theories that claim there was only one exodus from Africa approximately 60,000 years ago.

With the discovery of these new specimens, Issa is now one of two hominin skeletons that has both the lower spine and the dentition of an early hominin. This allows for certainty about the species of spine.

Berger who was an author of the new study said that Issa had been a complete skeleton of an ancient hominin, and these vertebrae complete it. 

The combination of preservation and completeness gave him the opportunity to show the scientists the unique anatomy at the lower back.

The authors of previous studies on the lower spine that were not part in this study suggested that sediba had a straight spine without any curvature or lordosis as seen in modern people. 

The researchers further speculated that Issa’s spine was similar to the extinct Neanderthals species, and other primitive species of ancient Hominins older then two million years.

Lordosis, the inward curve on the lumbar spine is called and used to display strong adaptations to bipedalism.

Nevertheless, the study showed that the lordosis found in sediba’s spine is much more extensive than the other australopithecines. It also revealed that the curvature seen in the spines of some humans and the Turkana boy, Homo erectus, a 1.6-million year-old Turkana boy, was even more dramatic.

Professor Gabrielle Russo of Stony Brook University said that while the appearance of lordosis, and other spine features clearly indicate adaptations for walking on two feet, other features such as large, upward-oriented transverse processes suggest strong trunk muscles, possibly for arboreal behavior.

The discovery also established that like humans, sediba had only five lumbar vertebrae

It was also discovered that sediba, like humans had just five lumbar vertebrae.

As seen in apes, strong upward-oriented transverse spines indicate powerful trunk muscles. 

Professor Shahed Nalla of the University of Johannesburg said that when combined with other anatomy parts, it indicates that sediba has clear adaptations for climbing.

Studies of the ancient species revealed mixed adaptations in the skeleton. These adaptations have been shown to indicate its ability to walk like humans and climb. 

This includes features in the pelvis, upper and lower limbs.

‘The spine ties this all together,’ said Professor Cody Prang of Texas A&M, who studies how ancient hominins walked and climbed. 

“In what way these traits persist in our ancestral ancestors is one of the most important questions about human origins. This includes potential adaptations to walking on the ground with two feet and climbing trees.

According to the study, sediba was a transitional human relative. Its spine clearly differs from modern humans and Neanderthals.

Berger stated that while Issa looked a lot like a person, she was capable of climbing like an ape.

The new research is published in the journal eLife. 

Neanderthals were a distant relative of the modern human race, but they went extinct around 40,000 years ago

Neanderthals, a human close ancestor mysteriously disappeared around 40,000 years back.

They lived for thousands of years in Africa, with the early human ancestors. Then they moved across Europe to live around 300,000 year ago.

Later, they were joined by human beings who arrived in Eurasia 48,000 years after their arrival.  

The Neanderthals were a cousin species of humans but not a direct ancestor - the two species split from a common ancestor -  that perished around 50,000 years ago. Pictured is a Neanderthal museum exhibit

The Neanderthals were a cousin species of humans but not a direct ancestor – the two species split from a common ancestor –  that perished around 50,000 years ago. A Neanderthal museum exhibit is shown here

These cavemen were originally thought to be dumb and primitive compared with modern human beings.

It has been increasingly obvious, especially in the last 10 years, that we are selling Neanderthals undervalued.

An increasing number of evidence supports the idea that a caveman is more advanced and versatile than previously thought.

The possibility exists that Neanderthals may have told their stories, buried and painted the bodies of their loved ones, as well as interbreeding with human beings.   

They created body art using pigments, beads and other materials. The earliest human art was probably predated by the Neanderthal Cave Art (and symbolism in Spain) of around 20,000 years.

It is believed that they hunted and did some fishing on the land. After the triumph of Homo Sapiens in Europe, however, they became extinct around 40,000 Years ago.