A remnant of the male individual's brain may be present in the remains of a well preserved 1.9-million-year-old human ancestor, according to the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France.
The remains were recently examined, and the discovery opens up the remote possibility that soft tissue with preserved DNA still exists in the prehistoric hominid, which could hold an important place on the human family tree.
AdvertisementThe examination also found what seemed to be fossilized insect eggs, say scientists.
They said larvae from the eggs could have fed on the flesh of the human ancestor, Australopithecus sediba, right after his death.
Project leader Lee Berger observed the hominid's skull with a powerful electromagnetic radiation X-ray process, and said that they were seeing "structures we can't even imagine in a way that's quite literally unprecedented in paleontological sciences."
The researchers focused on the teeth and "parts of the body that don't normally fossilize," such as the brain.
While further testing is needed, the researchers believe an "extended shadow" hints that a remnant of the brain after its bacterial decay is still present in the ancient remains.
"We actually think we have found the best candidate for a direct ancestor of Homo, the genus to which humans belong," Discovery News quoted Berger's colleague Darryl de Ruiter of Texas AnM University as saying.
So far, two fossilized skeletons for this species with both primitive and more human-like traits have been excavated.
The fossilized skeletons were found deep in a South African cave, where the prehistoric individuals had likely sought water before plunging to their deaths and being buried by a roof collapse within the cave.