Back in September 2015, a new species of early human – Homo naledi – was announced to the world. The remains were found in the aptly named ‘Cradle of Humankind’ near Johannesburg, South Africa at the Rising Star cave system. Since their discovery they have changed the way that we think about human evolution. Now another chamber has been discovered containing yet more remains and analysis of the skeletons within has shed light on what Homo naledi looked like and where they fit into the timeline of evolution. I spoke to the lead researchers Lee Berger and John Hawks…
- The new ‘Lesedi chamber’ is located 100 metres from the original and contains multiple partial skeletons which have been dated at 2 to 300,000 years old.
- Homo naledi has human-like hands, wrists, feet, body size and teeth, but the rest of the body is primitive in nature, including the skull, trunk and the brain, which is about one third of the size of modern human brains.
- It was originally thought that Homo naledi branched from human evolution around 2 million years ago, but the fact that the new skeletons seem to be much younger suggests that there was another lineage evolving in Africa at the same time as our Neanderthal ancestors.
- The Rising Star cave system has up to 2 kilometres of passageways and the entrance to the Lesedi chamber was found branching off from the original Dinaledi chamber through a 25cm gap.
- The Dinaledi chamber contains at least 15 individuals of all ages and the Lesedi chamber at least three individuals.
- Homo naledi are believed to have been purposefully entering these caves up to 30 metres underground to ritually dispose of their dead.
You can listen to the full interview for the Naked Scientists here.
The naledi fossils were found in unconsolidated mud-stone, this indeed suggests they’re not very old. It also suggests naledi lived in swampy environments. Naledi’s curved handbones (vertical climbing), its small ape-sized brain, its humanlike forefoot (as in chimp fetuses) & more chimplike hindfoot – all this suggests naledi lived in forest swamps, possibly not unlike bonobos wading bipedally, google e.g. “bonobo wading”. In any case, naledi did not bury their dead, they were no better tool-makers that e.g. extant chimps are, they were certainly no savanna runners as prof.Berger wants us to believe, and they were probably no closer relatives of ours than of chimps & bonobos, google “not Homo but Pan naledi? 2017 biology vs anthropocentrism”.