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University of Michigan museum acquires reconstruction of extinct hominid

University sought an extinct hominid not found elsewhere

Life-size sculptural reconstruction of Australopithecus sediba, an extinct human relative that roamed southern Africa 2 million years ago.  Sculpture Elisabeth Dayns /Photo: S. Entressangle
Life-size sculptural reconstruction of Australopithecus sediba, an extinct human relative that roamed southern Africa 2 million years ago. Sculpture Elisabeth Dayns /Photo: S. Entressangle

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The University of Michigan now owns what’s believed to be the only lifelike reconstruction of a human relative that roamed southern Africa 2 million years ago.

The Ann Arbor school’s Museum of Natural History says the Australopithecus sediba sculpture will be displayed when the museum reopens in a new place in about a year.

The university says in a release the adult female sculpture stands at 45 inches (1.1 meters) and is based on fossil bones recovered from a South African cave in 2008. The model came from the Daynes Studio in Paris, which produced the Australopithecus afarensis dubbed “Lucy” at Chicago’s Field Museum.

"We had to open the crate to confirm that it wasn't damaged during shipping, and everyone in the room was just floored by its lifelike appearance," said U-M paleontologist Michael Cherney, who is overseeing the selection of fossil- and evolution-related exhibits for the new museum.

"There's definitely a shock factor, because she's gazing right into your eyes and looks like a living creature that has paused mid-step," Cherney said.

The university sought an extinct hominid not found elsewhere.

The new museum is being built in the Biological Sciences Building, next to its former home.

"What the bones tell us is that they would have been fully erect, not crouched at the hip and knee like chimps and gorillas, and that's something we really wanted to get right in this model," said U-M paleoanthropologist Laura MacLatchy, a member of the faculty advisory group, which also included Holly Smith of the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology, William Sanders of the Museum of Paleontology and John Speth, emeritus professor of anthropology.

"Mike opened the crate for me, and I was spellbound," MacLatchy said. "There's a lot of humanity in the face, and I was really struck by that. And as a scientist, I was very pleased with the proportions of the limbs, the posture and the stance. It's very representative of how scientists have interpreted the bones."

U-M's new Museum of Natural History will be inside the Biological Sciences Building, which is under construction next to the museum's former home, the Ruthven Museums Building. The Ruthven museum closed at the end of last year.


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