Nearly 2-million-year-old fossils discovered in a South African cave in 2008 have been found to have part-human and part-ape characteristics, paleontologists say.
Skeletal remains of the species, called Australopithecus sediba, were unearthed in August 2008 at the Malapa site and belonged to a previously unclassified species of prehuman dating back almost 2 million years, scientists revealed in April 2010.
Earlier findings showed that the Australopithecus sediba species walked upright and shared many physical traits with the earliest known humans.
But according to the latest finding, the species displayed apelike as well as modern traits, authors of the report published online in the journal Science on Thursday said.
The species had hands similar to man, sophisticated ankles that helped in movement and a surprisingly tiny but advanced brain, they said.
The ankle joint is mostly humanlike in form and inferred function, and there is some evidence for a human-like arch and Achilles tendon. However, Australopithecus sediba is apelike in possessing a more gracile calcaneal body and a more robust medial malleolus than expected.
Researchers said the new findings suggest that Australopithecus sediba could be the 'missing link' between apes and Homo sapiens and may shed new light on human evolution.
The fossils, which include remains of the bones of a young male and an adult female, have been put on display at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.