The Japan Times
April 28, 2000

Researchers discuss ape-man fossil find

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) South African scientists Wednesday revealed details about a pair of fossils, including the most complete apeman skull ever excavated, which they hope will shed light on our distant origins.

The pair, named Orpheus and Eurydice after the Greek mythological lovers, are 1.5 million to 2 million years old and have been identified as Paranthropus robustus, a hominid line that went extinct about 1 million years ago.

"They are not direct ancestors of modern humans but are more like 'kissing cousins' of our ancestors," Lee Berger said after a news conference, where the pair — discovered in 1994 but revealed only now — were put on public display for the first time.

Scientists say the skull belongs to a female of the species while the other fossil, a lower jawbone or mandible, belongs to a male.

The fossils were unearthed 7 km from the renowned Sterkfontein caves north of Johannesburg, which have yielded many hominid finds, including the recent discovery of a complete 3.3 million-year-old arm and head.

Scientists say the significance of the find includes the fact that they now know what a female Paranthropus robustus looks like and know the difference between the male and female of the species.

They also hope its differences and similarities from humanity's ancestors, and the reasons for its extinction, may provide clues to humanity's own march up the evolutionary ladder.


SOUTH AFRICAN PALEONTOLOGIST Andre Keyser looks through protective glass in Johannesburg on Wednesday at the most complete skull of an ape-man ever found. The skull and the lower jaw were discovered by Keyser at an excavation northwest of Johannesburg in 1994. AFP-JIJI PHOTO