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New hominid has a name

A JOBURG teenager has named the juvenile hominid skeleton unveiled earlier this year, after winning a competition run by Wits University.

Seventeen-year-old Omphemetste Keepile, a student at St Mary's School in Waverly, Johannesburg, suggested the name Karabo, meaning "answer" in Sestwana. The juvenile hominid skeleton was unveiled to the world by Wits Professor Lee Berger in April.

Keepile was announced the winner of the nationwide naming competition, on 31 May, at the seventh annual Standard Bank PAST Palaeontology public lecture, delivered by Berger in the Wits Great Hall.

The naming competition, sponsored by Standard Bank and the Palaeontological Scientific Trust (PAST), in association with Wits and the Department of Science and Technology, ran from 11 April until 2 May. Keepile's winning entry was selected from over 15 000 submissions.

In her submission, she explained that the fossil represented a "solution" to understanding the origins of humankind. "It has helped researchers to seek much deeper into the information that they have and the information that they will acquire through this discovery. It has enabled them to broaden their former understanding of the concept of humankind," she wrote.

The Joburg student will receive R75 000 from Standard Bank towards her education; her school will receive R25 000 as well as a replica model of Karabo.

Suggested names could be up to 15 letters and in any South African language. Learners had to submit a story, motivation or poem not longer than 150 words in English on why the Sediba child should be given their proposed name.

The judges who reviewed the submissions and decided on the winning entry included Berger and his son Matthew, who discovered the fossil, 5FM deejay Gareth Cliff, and representatives from Standard Bank, the Department of Science and Technology and PAST.

"It was a thrilling experience to see the way that South African children embraced the challenge of coming up with a name for the Australopithecus sediba child," said Berger. "With more than 15 000 entries and literally thousands of stories, poems and motivations for a popular name for the child, it gave me a real sense of how the people of South Africa, and particularly its children, had embraced this wonderful find.

"The name is a real African name, chosen by the children of Africa and it is an exciting moment in history when the children of Africa have picked a name for an ancient child of Africa, who himself was found by a child," he said.

Matthew added: "I think that Karabo is a wonderful name because it means ‘the answer'. I think that the little Sediba child will hold so many clues to the muddle in the middle about where we come from as a genus and a species."

Karabo is an Australopithecus sediba, an entirely new hominid. It was discovered by Berger's nine-year-old son, Matthew, at the Malapa site in the Cradle of Humankind in 2008. It is believed to be the remains of a boy aged between eight and 13 years old. The child's fossil was found alongside the remains of an adult female in her 30s.

The fossils are significant as they are perhaps the most complete remains of any hominids found dating back two million years. They are possibly one of the most noteworthy palaeoanthropological discoveries in contemporary times.

The bones of young Karabo and the adult female suggest the newly documented species of Australopithecus sediba walked upright and shared many physical traits with the earliest known human Homo species.

This species has long arms like an ape, and short powerful hands more like a human. This makes it likely that it could have climbed trees, while an advanced pelvis and long legs suggest it was able to stride, and even run, like a human.

Mogale City's Maropeng, where the fossils were discovered, is part of the Sterkfontein Caves area, to the west of Johannesburg. It is a world heritage site rich with fossils recording the earliest history of humankind.