This video is called Australopithecus Afarensis.
Today, there was a visit to the natural history museum by a delegation from the Transvaal Museum in South Africa, for contacts especially on palaeontology.
The delegation included computer database specialist Klaas Manamela, working at the museum since 1997.
And director and palaeontologist Dr Francis Thackeray, who lectured (in English, after introductory sentences in Afrikaans) on ‘Mrs Ples and our distant relatives on the African continent’.
Mrs Ples is the nickname of an ancient hominid fossil, discovered in 1947 in Sterkfontein in the Transvaal region of South Africa.
Both parts of the nickname are outdated now, as the fossil was nicknamed Mrs because it was first thought to be female, and now it is thought to be male.
And ‘Ples’ stood for Plesianthropus, the original scientific name; while the fossil is now considered to belong to the species Australopithecus africanus.
He thought so, as the closest relatives of humans, chimpanzees and gorillas, lived in Africa.
In the twentieth century, Darwin would be proved correct by discoveries in South Africa, later also in other countries like Kenya.
The Mrs Ples skull was discovered after explosions by gold mining dynamite, which had damaged it.
It had a volume of about 485 cc, not really bigger than a chimpanzee.
Until 1994, there was Apartheid rule in South Africa.
That meant less international scientific contacts.
Also, it was illegal to teach evolution in schools, because of creationist Christian influence on the government.
In 1994, a poll found out only about 5% of South Africans knew about ancient hominid fossils like Mrs Ples.
The museum wrote to the new President, Nelson Mandela, and the situation improved.
There used to be palaeontology only at two museums in South Africa, Transvaal Museum and in Cape Town.
Now, there are more museums, including at Sterkfontein.
That an Australopithecus skeleton, found in August 1947, and the Mrs Ples skull, found in April 1947, closely together at Sterkfontein, are part of one body, was only discovered in 2002.
Previously, it had been thought the skull was adult, while the body was subadult.
However, later research proved the skull was also subadult.
This fossil is more complete than “Lucy”, of the related, older species Australopithecus afarensis.
Hominid stone tools of the Olduwan type were found there, maybe for scavenging dead antelope.
In Swartkrans, remains were found of Australopithecus robustus, and of Homo ergaster.
At other places, one can also find fossils of the extinct baboon Parapapio.
And many fossil rodents, often with more now extinct species, like the mole rat Bathyergus hendeyi from Langebaanweg, as the places get older.
I asked a question on recent discoveries on Homo rudolfensis being more ape like than thought previously.
Dr Thackeray replied that Homo rudolfensis was complex, an example of how individuals are often difficult to pigeonhole into separate species.
See also here.
Olduvai gorge in Tanzania: here.
Tool-wielding chimps provide a glimpse of early human behavior: here.
Hominids and running: here.
Charles Darwin’s The Descent of Man: here.