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New Hominid Discovery: Homo naledi

A new species of hominid, the Homo naledi, has been discovered by scientists of the University of Witwatersrand working in collaboration with those from the National Geographic. The findings, published in two papers on eLife, are thought to be of great importance to the science community.

H. naledi

Paleoartist John Gurche’s reconstruction of H. naledi inspired from bone scans. Photo credits: University of the Witwatersrand, National Geographic Society and the South African National Research Foundation.

The fossil of the Homo naledi was found in Africa. The discovery will hopefully shed further light on the origins of man.

After amateur cavers came across the H. naledi in a cave system called Rising Star in South Africa’s Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, a team of scientists and volunteer cavers set out with hopes to find a skeleton. Their adventure ended up being much more exciting than they had initially thought: they ultimately discovered 15 individuals from one hominin species in the form of 1,500 fossil pieces. The latter were present in a single chamber located around 90 metres from the entrance of the cave. The species was named naledi which means “star” in South African language Sesotho. That is not all. The researchers believe that thousands and thousands of remains remain undiscovered.

“The floor is practically made of bones of these individuals,” said the lead author, Lee Berger, in a statement to IFLScience.

The bulk of the findings allowed for every skeletal element to be represented several times throughout varying age groups.

Interestingly, the H. nadeli appears to have both primitive and human-like characteristics. The top of the limbs (pelvis and shoulders) are primitive while the endings are very human-like. It is surprisingly tall (at 150 centimeters), slender, and endowed with well-muscled joints.  Their feet bear close resemblance to ours. Their shoulders were able to rotate more; the researchers speculated they might have indulged in climbing. Scientists estimate its weight at around 45 kilograms. Also, they seemed to have tiny heads.

On the other hand, their males did not seem to differ much from their females. Rather, they all looked very similar. The scientists concluded that they might have been closely related.

Another interesting question is as to how did they get into the cave? The scientists explain that this might be the result of the H. naledi disposing of their dead in separate chambers – a characteristic long thought to be unique to humans.

“What does that mean for us?” says Berger. “Did we inherit it, has it always been there in our lineage, or did they invent it?”


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