Ancient skeleton named

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Pretoria - An almost 2 million-year-old hominid skeleton discovered in the Cradle of Humankind has been named Karabo.

Karabo is a 1.95 million-year-old fossil, who was between nine and 13-years-old when he died, and was found by Matthew Berger, the son of Wits palaeoanthropologist Professor Lee Berger.

A second partial skeleton, that of an adult female, was found along with Karabo, about two years ago.

The name Karabo was the suggestion of 17-year-old Johannesburg schoolgirl Omphemetse Keepile, who was among more 15 000 school children who entered the competition to name the skeleton.

Karabo means "answer" in Setswana.

Keepile explained that she chose the name because it suggested that answers were present and more answers would follow.

In her submission to the competition Keepile said the fossil represents a solution to understanding the origins of humankind.

"It has helped researchers to seek much deeper into the information that they have and the information that they will acquire through this discovery. It has enabled them to broaden their former understanding of the concept of humankind," Keepile added.

Finding the two fossils marked the discovery of the new species of hominid, which was named Australopithecus sediba but a common name for the sediba child was announced on Monday.

The species is suggested to be a good candidate for being a transitional species between the southern African ape-man Australopithecus africanus (the Taung Child, Mrs. Ples) and either Homo habilis or even a direct ancestor of Homo erectus (Turkana boy, java man, Peking man).

Prof Berger said he was thrilled by the way in which South African schoolchildren embraced the challenge of coming up with a name for the Australopithecus sediba child.

"The name is a real African name, chosen by the children of Africa and it is an exciting moment in history when the children of Africa have picked a name for an ancient child of Africa, who himself was found by a child," he added.

Matthew, who was nine when he found the fossil, also gave the name a thumbs-up.

"I think that Karabo is a wonderful name because it means 'the answer'. I think that the
little sediba child will hold so many clues to the muddle in the middle about where we come from as a genus and a species," said Matthew.

For her efforts, Keepile won R75 000 towards her education, while her school will receive R25 000 and a replica model of the Karabo fossil.

The competition was sponsored by Standard Bank and the Palaeontological Scientific Trust in association will Wits University and the Department of Science and Technology.