These new fossils found in South Africa have unearthed a new species, Australopithecus sediba, which have both man-like and ape-like features. As such, these fossils appear to be a transitional species: a rare example of evolution in action as one organism transforms into another. These Australopithecus hominids lived in family groups, walked upright, and enjoyed a much larger brain than any ape. While these specific skulls are small compared to modern man’s large cranium, the brain itself would have resembled a human’s. Its lower body, furthermore, had both ape and human characteristics: the ankle appeared similar to a human’s while the heel seems more like a chimp’s or gorilla’s.
It is likely that these hominids lived in both trees and on the open plains, depending on the need for food. Trees offered shelter from predators, but they would have had to come to the ground to give birth and gather tools. They could have traveled over relatively large distances, making it possible to move across (and survive in) different ecosystems. Perhaps an environmental event caused select human-similar genes to be more favorable to the evolutionary track than ape-similar genes, slowly paving the way for the DNA that would lead to full Australopithicus species, and eventually modern man.