Department of Science and Technology (DST) donates replicas of South African fossils to Chinese museums
30 Sep 2010
South Africa today donated the replicas of the country's recent fossil find, Australopithecus sediba, to two museums in China, spreading awareness of the country's fossil heritage.
Painstakingly reproduced in the palaeoscience laboratories at the University of the Witwatersrand, the replicas will be on display at the Museum of Natural History in Shanghai and the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) in Beijing.
The donation includes the type specimens of Australopithecine early ape man ancestors, popularly known as "Mrs Ples", and the "Taung Child".
This is an initiative of the Department of Science and Technology and forms part of the "heritage" theme portrayed at the South African Pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo this month.
Speaking at the handover held at the South African pavilion, the Deputy Minister of Science and Technology, Derek Hanekom, said China's cooperation with South Africa in palaeoanthropology and archaeology had resulted, among other things, in Professor Philip Tobias being appointed an honorary professor at the famous Academy of Sciences in Beijing and at the University of Nanjing.
"We are proud to be able to share evidence of our mutual, lengthy past with our Chinese friends," said Mr Hanekom.
In line with this sentiment, the Deputy Minister said South Africa would next year be donating to IVPP in Beijing a recently collected fossil of the mammal-like reptile Lystrosaurus as a symbol of unity between the two countries.
Lystrosaurus was specifically chosen as it is the symbol of the Palaeontological Society of Southern Africa. In addition, it has been found in China as well as South Africa and shows that South Africa and China were connected in the single continent of Pangea more than 200 million years ago.
"Our bilateral agreement in the field of the palaeosciences will further unite our two countries," said the Deputy Minister, congratulating China on its successful hosting of the expo.
"The Shanghai World Expo 2010 has been a particularly successful event, and I congratulate the people of China on this magnificent achievement. These congratulations come from a country which has itself this year hosted a successful multination event – the FIFA World Cup 2010. I believe we both have reason to be proud."
South Africa has yielded discoveries of human remains which have caught the attention of the world.
The Sterkfontein, Swartkrans and Kromdraai cluster in South Africa, where most of the discoveries of early hominid fossils were made, is one of the world's most productive and important palaeoanthropological sites.
Known today as the "Cradle of Humankind", the 47 000 ha site lies between nondescript hills, covered with scattered shrubs and trees about 40 km north west of Johannesburg.
The most recent find of an early human ancestor, Australopithecus sediba, at the Malapa fossil site, has stimulated enormous public interest around the world, as well as renewed scientific interest in the Cradle of Humankind world heritage site.
The find consists of two fossil skeletons, an adolescent male (Karabo) and a mature female, found relatively close to one another, and dated to between 1,95 and 1,78 million years ago in the early Pleistocene Epoch.
The find has also provided what is potentially a new and important link between early African human ancestors and the immediate ancestor of modern humans, Homo erectus. Specimens of Homo erectus have been found in China and the Far East.
Mrs Ples, who might have been an adolescent male, is a distant relative of all humankind. Australopithecus africanus became extinct between 2,1 and 2,2 million years ago, and Mrs Ples is the last recorded occurrence of the species.
The Taung Child was discovered by Professor Raymond Dart in North West in 1924. Only three and a half years old, the child was a member of Australopithecus africanus, a species of bipedal hominid and an early human ancestor.
The fossils are of immense value in assisting South Africa appreciate its scientists and their abilities, and the fact that Africa has made a significant contribution to the evolution of humanity.
Issued by: Department of Science and Technology
30 Sep 2010
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