Scientists discover new human ancestor ‘Homo Naledi’
Dr. Lee Berger, a paleoanthropologist situated at South Africahas been exploring the Rising Star cave system for years. During his expeditions, he was made aware that there was at least one opening he had not yet ventured into. Locating the cave and heading inside, Dr. Berger would return with evidence of an entirely new human species.
It quickly turned out to be the largest unique collection of fossilized skulls and bones ever found in Africa – the continent where human history began.
He and his team have discovered more than 1,550 fragments of about 15 skeletons belonging to a species that scientists have identified as part of the human family.
Homo naledi joined the ranks of others that make up the genus Homo, an ancestor explored during the Smithsonian Channel documentary, ‘Life on Earth: The Age of Humans.
Speaking to the program in 2015, he explained the simple but effective process that led to his discovery in 2013: “I had this map that I created of almost 800 cave sites which were all gateways to entry into the underworld that I had not yet been in – and that was the mission.”
Speleologists have discovered the remains of numerous Homo naledi deep within the Rising Star cave system
The Rising Star cave system is part of the Cradle of Humankind heritage site
Whispers of human remains existed among the locals, and when Dr. Berger finally located the remains, he was “speechless”.
He said: “There I saw something I thought I would never see in my entire career, there was a clearly primitive hominid lying right there on the surface in the dirt.”
The remains he and his team found varied, ranging from infants to elderly adults.
Basically, none belonged to a human known to the Gender Homo.
Dr. Lee Berger holds naledi’s skull
But what would Homo nadeli have looked like? From a distance, they would have looked like us. But on closer inspection, the main differences would quickly become clear.
Their proportions were skewed: naledi was short with a small head and narrow shoulders, and pronounced ape-like facial features.
Naledi is said to have once lived alongside Homo sapiens around 300,000 years ago, alongside Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalensis.
The largest discovery of its kind ever made in Africa, countless mysteries surround naledi.
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Naledi fitted out in its entirety
One theory suggests the cave acted as a burial ground
How did the bones get into the caves? What kind of tools did he use? How did it survive alongside the larger-brained genus Homo? Scientists will never know.
But what they can be sure of is that naledi rejects the narrative of linear human evolution which once prevailed in scientific circles.
Dr Rick Potts, a paleoanthropologist at the National Museum of Natural History, also speaking during the documentary, said: “‘We used to see the story of human evolution as this march of progress, from the ape to the human being.
“Instead, what we learned was that there were contemporaries.
Inside the cave system where naledi was found
“Our evolutionary tree is branching and diverse like the evolutionary trees of almost every other organism on Earth.”
So far, Homo naledi has only been found in South Africa. Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Siteabout 40 kilometers from Johannesburg.
It could be that naledi evolved, lived, and died in this isolated region – many other Homo genera got stuck in a single area of Earth.
Homo floresiensis, for example, inhabited the island of Flores, Indonesia, and was therefore tiny, standing 3 feet 7 inches, having adapted to its environment and needs.
Berger holds a naledi skull fragment
In 2019, Homo naledia and Australopithecus sediba were first displayed to the public in Dallas, Texas at the Perot Museum.
At the time, Professor Adam Habib, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Wits University, said: “We are delighted to share these South African national treasures, of which Wits University is the custodian, with audiences around the world.
“Science should have no borders and our collective knowledge should be made available.
“These fossils testify to our common origins and research and knowledge of them must transcend institutional, national and even disciplinary boundaries so that they point the way towards a collective future defined by human solidarity.
“Our partnership with the Perot Museum is part of this spirit, and we look forward to enriching it in the years to come.”