About 'Mrs Ples' (Australopithecus Africanus)
'Mrs Ples' hominid fossil STS 5 ( b -2 0000000 )
Species: Australopithecus africanus
Age: 2.05 mya
Buried: Sterkfontein, South Africa
Mrs. Ples is the popular nickname for the most complete skull of an Australopithecus africanus specimen ever found in South Africa. Many fossils of this species, which are considered to be the distant relatives of all humankind, have been found in the Sterkfontein area, in what has been designated the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, which is situated approximately 70 kilometres southwest of Pretoria. Mrs. Ples was discovered by Dr. Robert Broom and John T. Robinson on 18 April 1947. The cranial capacity is about 485 cubic centimeters. The catalog number for Mrs. Ples is STS 5.
The nickname Mrs. Ples was derived from the scientific designation Plesianthropus transvaalensis (near-man from the Transvaal), initially given to the skull by Dr. Broom; the nickname itself was coined by young coworkers of Dr. Broom. The sex of the skull is not completely certain and so Mrs. Ples may in fact be Mr. Ples. In addition, X-ray analysis of the roots of the teeth of Mrs. Ples has suggested that it was a sub-adult, so a designation of Miss Ples or Master Ples is also possible.
Some experts have suggested that a partial skeleton, known only by its catalogue number of STS 14 that was discovered in the same year, in the same geological deposit and in proximity to it, may belong to this skull. If correct, this would make Mrs. Ples the South African counterpart to the famous Lucy fossil. The fossil has been dated by a combination of palaeomagnetism and uranium-lead techniques to around 2.05 million years.
- Endocranial Capacity of Early Hominids, Charles A. Lockwood, William H. Kimbel. Science 1 January 1999:Vol. 283 no. 5398 p. 9
- Herries, A.I.R., Shaw, J. 2011. Palaeomagnetic analysis of the Sterkfontein palaeocave deposits; age implications for the hominin fossils and stone tool industries. J. Human Evolution. 60, 523-539.
- Herries, A.I.R.., Hopley, P., Adams, J., Curnoe, D., Maslin, M. 2010. Geochronology and palaeoenvironments of the South African early hominin bearing sites: a reply to ‘Wrangham et al., 2009: Shallow-Water Habitats as Sources of Fallback Foods for Hominins’ Am. J. Phys. Anthro. 143, 640–646
- Tattersall, Ian, Schwartz, Jeffery (2000). Extinct Humans. Westview Press, Boulder CO. pp. 65–66. ISBN 0-8133-3482-9.
- Australopithecus afarensis lived in East Africa between about 3.6-million and 3-million years ago
- The ape-like but upright-walking Australopithecus africanus lived between about 3-million and 2-million years ago in Southern Africa
- “Handy man”, Homo habilis, is commonly regarded as the first toolmaker, emerging about 2-million years ago in East Africa
- Homo ergaster was about as tall as modern humans and lived between about 1.7-million and 1.4-million years ago in East and Southern Africa
- Homo heidelbergensis lived from about 600,000 years ago until 300,000 years ago and was probably an ancestor of Neanderthals
- Homo neanderthalensis lived from about 200,000 years ago until about 20,000 years ago in Europe
- Homo sapiens emerged about 200,000 years ago, probably in Africa.
Modern humans have a large brain (1300 cc average), encased in a high-vaulted cranium. They also have a browridge that is very reduced or non-existent compared to other Homo species, a near-vertical forehead, vertical sides to the braincase and a prominent chin. Although populations around the world do look different – with skin colour being perhaps the most definitive characteristic – we are all alike and share the same species name, Homo sapiens.
"Mrs Ples" has been identified as an example of Australopithecus africanus
Australopithecus – Australopithecines were some of our most ancient ancestors, living in Africa between about 4-million and 2-million years ago.
They were smaller than us, with human-like teeth and hands, a flattened nose region and forward-projecting jaws. Their brain was a little larger than that of a modern chimpanzee’s – about a third the size of ours today.
Australopithecus walked upright, but still used trees – perhaps climbing them for protection from predators or to seek food.
Different species of Australopithecus lived in Eastern and Southern Africa. The oldest found thus far, Australopithecus anamensis, was the most ape-like of the australopithecines and lived between 4.2-million and 3.9-million years ago in East Africa.
Other species include Australopithecus afarensis which lived between 3.6-million and 2.9-million years ago in East Africa and Australopithecus africanus, which lived between 3-million and 2-million years ago in Southern Africa.
The famous South African fossils Mrs Ples and the Taung Child are both Australopithecus africanus.
Homo – The earliest species of the genus Homo, our most direct ancestors, appeared about 2.3-million years ago. There were many species of Homo; the first was Homo habilis, known from fossils dating to 1.9-million years ago.
Homo had a larger brain than its australopithecine predecessors. It was the first hominid to have the mental capacity in addition to the physical ability to fashion primitive stone tools.
It was followed by Homo ergaster about 1.7-million years ago, whose advanced tool use and ability to harness fire for cooking and warmth allowed their descendants to eventually leave Africa for colder climates. Homo erectus emerged soon after, populating Asia for over a million years.
As Homo developed and speciated, their brains grew larger.
Modern Homo sapiens emerged about 200,000 years ago in Africa. Some of the earliest fossils of our species have been found in Ethiopia and South Africa.
Modern Humans – Modern humans, Homo sapiens, are the only species of Homo that have survived up until this day. The earliest modern humans appeared in Africa about 200,000 years ago. By at least 70,000 years ago, humans were showing modern behavioural traits such as adornment and artwork.
Ancient civilisations began to appear about 10,000 years ago, with writing forms following soon afterwards. And the rest… is history.