It was back in 2013 when two cavers, Rick Hunter and Steven Tucker, were in a cave called Rising Star that they found the fossil fragments of a human like species. The bones and teeth that were buried in the ancient clay would eventually number more than 1,500 pieces, making it the largest find of hominin fossils of its kind in Africa.
The cave is located in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site which is approximately 30 miles (50 kilometers) north-west of Johannesburg, South Africa. The new species called “Homo naledi” was named after the cave where it was found. “Naledi” means “star” in Sesotho which is a South African language.
The 15 partial skeletons were announced by researchers from University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and has been published in the journal E-Life. Lee Berger a palaeoanthropologist at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and lead researcher said that after examining the fossils he believes that the bones belong to the Homo genus and told New Scientist, that the species “doesn’t look a lot like us.”
New Human Relative Species Discovered in South Africa:
According to Berger, the cave holds thousands more remains: “Once we realized the full potential, we decided the best thing to do was to lock down the site, and engage the entire community to make a decision on what to do there next.”
With the number of bones and the location of where they were found, it appears that they may have been deliberately placed in the cave. If this is the case then it would make it the first time we have seen this behaviour from such a primitive human, furthermore it could change our understanding of the origins of modern human behaviour.
Berger told CBS News that:
“My discovery turns science on its head.”
CBS News wrote that the discovery was fraught with tension, and Berger is not without his critics. Some believe he’s been too quick to describe this as a deliberate burial area.
Scientists Discover New Human Ancestor ‘Homo Naledi’:
Bernard Wood a palaeoanthropologist and is familiar with Berger’s work has said that with the absence of how old the species is, it is difficult to reach the same conclusion. “I’m respectful of the material they found and I’m respectful of the efforts they made to recover it, but I’m extremely skeptical about the interpretation of them,” Wood told CBS News.
Will Harcourt-Smith, co-author of the study, and a palaeoanthropologist told Live Science: “We can spin a lot of yarns, maybe it buried the dead out of reverence,” or “maybe to get rid of things that were smelling. Maybe another species was throwing them down.”
The bones have a unique mix of characteristics; if you look at the pelvis or shoulders it resembles the apelike Australopithecus. But if you look at its foot it seems to belong to our species, Berger explains. The Australopithecus appeared about 4 million years ago, where our species appeared 200,000 years ago.
Harcourt-Smith said: “Modern humans are really unusual in that walking on two legs is pretty much all we do, Homo naledi probably spent most of its time walking on two legs, but also spent some proportion of its time up in trees — whether to escape predators or nest at night, we don’t know.”
Scientists find Human species Homo Naledi in South Africa at Maropeng:
The skull however shows that their brain was smaller than ours at least half the size which is more like the species of Homo and they were around 2 million years ago. The team believes that the creature may have been 5 feet tall and weighed nearly 100 pounds.
“The combination of anatomical features we see in this creature is not like any we’ve ever seen before,”
study co-author John Hawks told Live Science.
Even though the find is important some researchers are cautious with Jeffrey Schwartz at the University of Pittsburgh, telling New Scientist that: “the specimens lumped together as Homo naledi represent two cranial morphs.”
New human-like species naledi discovered in South Africa — BBC News:
The fossils have not been dated yet as the chamber where they were found lacks the features that scientists would rely on to date fossils. The scientists believe that it could date back as far as 3 million years. But Berger added that: “We will be trying to extract DNA from these fossils,” to confirm the date.