She swung in the trees like a chimp but had long dexterous fingers for tool-making and hybrid feet for walking upright, a major study Thursday on the ancient hominid Australopithecus sediba suggested.
Until now, the first tool-maker was widely believed to be Homo habilis, based on a set of 21 fossilized hand bones found in Tanzania that date back 1.75 million years.
But a close examination of two partial fossilized skeletons of Au. sediba discovered in South Africa in 2008 suggests these creatures who roamed the Earth 1.9 million years ago were crafting tools even earlier, and could be the first direct ancestor of the Homo species.
“This is an immensely groundbreaking study. It tells a story never told before. It definitely calls for science books to be re-written,” project leader Lee Berger told AFP.
Berger, an American who is a professor at South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand, and his nine-year-old son discovered the fossil site of Malapa, north of Johannesburg, in 2008.
The area is located within the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage site, and has since yielded more than 220 bones from at least five individuals; some babies, juveniles and adults.
A close analysis of the pelvis, brain, feet and hands of Au. sediba are described in five papers published in the US journal Science.