An Australopithecus sediba paean

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Kate Wong: “Is Australopithecus sediba the Most Important Human Ancestor Discovery Ever?”

Secondand this may sound a little insidery, but its criticalthe way Berger and his collaborators are studying the finds and disseminating what they learn represents a real departure from the cloak-and-dagger manner in which paleoanthropological investigations often proceed. Berger has assembled a huge team of specialists to work on the remains and has made the project open access, with a policy of granting permission to any paleoanthropologist who asks to see the original fossils. He has also sent out scores of replicas to institutions around the world, and routinely brings casts of the boneseven ones that his team has yet to formally describeto professional meetings to share with other researchers. This can only improve the quality of the science that comes out of the project and may well inspire other teams to be more forthcoming with their own data.

Malapa is the perfect site at the perfect time. Many people have scoured that area looking for something like Malapa. If they had found it in 1950 we would have the skeletons, but would have lost much of the context. The open approach is fundamental to the science because it enables the best people to do their best work.

Is Au. sediba the most important ever? As Wong writes, we must match the find with the moment. Clearly right now, Malapa poses fundamentally new questions and provides evidence to address them. It is not alone: Denisova likewise has produced (and is still producing) vast reams of new data and raising new, unforeseen questions. Other key sites belong in this league: Sima de los Huesos, Dmanisi.

We have yet to see the full importance of these sites, as they are still unfolding. It is our job to find the contradictions between these new finds and our earlier hypotheses, and use them to discover the real story.