BONANZA:  Recent sports events led to an increase of nearly 50% in visits to Maropeng's Cradle of Humankind visitor centre.
BONANZA: Recent sports events led to an increase of nearly 50% in visits to Maropeng's Cradle of Humankind visitor centre.

SCIENTISTS have found what they believe to be more bones belonging to "Karabo", the 2-million-year-old Australopithecus sediba hominid fossil discovered at the Cradle of Humankind in 2008, the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) announced on Thursday.

If the scientists are proved correct, it would make Karabo the most complete hominid skeleton found to date, said Prof Lee Berger of the Institute of Human Evolution at Wits, who discovered the partial remains of two hominid skeletons and identified them as a new species.

The fossils were found at a site called Malapa, which has since then yielded the ancient remains of more hominids and diverse animals.

Prof Berger's team has found parts of a jaw and what appear to be a complete thigh bone, ribs, vertebrae and other parts of the skeleton's limbs, some of which have never before been seen in such a complete state. Hominid fossil finds are so rare that scientists typically work with mere fragments of bone.

"We have discovered a great big rock, inside of which is the remains of either Karabo or a brand-new skeleton," said Prof Berger in a telephone interview from China.

"We think it comes from Karabo because there is part of a tooth and mandible sticking out of the rock that articulates onto a tiny fragment of mandible that articulates with . Karabo's (jaw)," he said. "But we know there are at least four others, so it could be another skeleton that was nestled into Karabo. There is enough in the rock to say it is the most complete early hominid skeleton (found so far). That's amazing."

Prof Berger will on Friday make an announcement about the find at the Shanghai Science & Technology Museum, as part of a Gauteng delegation promoting trade and tourism between the two regions.

He is also expected to provide details of Wits' plans to build a new laboratory that will allow people from around the world to watch an internet broadcast of scientists painstakingly removing the Malapa fossils from rock in real time.

kahnt@bdfm.co.za