Famous fossils on display in Washington, DC
9 Feb 2011On 10 February 2011, replicas of the famous Australopithecus sediba will be handed over to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. The initiative is a display of collegial exchange and a gift from the University of the Witwatersrand and the people of South Africa.
The casts of these skeletons – which include two complete copies for public display as well as two copies for research – represent a free exchange of information between researchers in South Africa and the National Museum of the United States of America, fostering closer research collaborations between the two countries and their respective institutions.
Australopithecus sediba was announced in April of 2010 as a new species of early human ancestor. The first specimens announced represent the two most complete skeletons of early hominins ever discovered, and have been referred to as one of the most important discoveries ever in the search for human origins in Africa.
The Department of Science and Technology (DST) has welcomed the donation of the casts to the museum.
Renowned palaeoanthropologist Prof. Lee Berger will hand over the casts of the two skeletons to the Director of the Smithsonian Institution, Dr Cristián Samper.
The palaeontological donation represents a free exchange of scientific and cultural information in a field generally not known for this, and forms part of the mission to share Africa's priceless heritage of human origins with the rest of the world.
This is the second time the fossils will be displayed overseas to raise awareness of the country's fossil heritage. South Africa donated replicas of the fossil find to two museums in China last year, during the Shanghai World Expo.
Discovered in 2008 by a team led by Prof. Berger, Australopithecus sediba has stimulated enormous public interest around the world, as well as renewed scientific interest in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site outside Johannesburg, where the discovery was made. The fossils are of an adolescent male, dubbed 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.
The DST supports palaeosciences through the African Origins Programme, initiated to develop the field and provide scientists with the required tools to become leaders in their field through research grants, outreach and awareness programmes, and student support initiatives, among other things.
The Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, has said that no other country in the world can boast the oldest evidence of life on earth extending back more than 3 billion years, the oldest multicellular animals, the oldest land-living plants, the most distant ancestors of dinosaurs and, together with several other African countries, a most remarkable record of human origins and of human achievements through the last 8 million years.
“The fossils are of immense value in assisting South Africa to appreciate our scientists and their abilities, and the fact that Africa has made a significant contribution to the evolution of humanity,” she said at the announcement of the discovery last April.
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Issued by: Department of Science and Technology
9 Feb 2011
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