Homo Naledi Is A Genuine New Ancient Human Ancestor

Posted: Sep 10 2015, 8:07am CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

Homo Naledi is a Genuine New Ancient Human Ancestor
Conjured in clay and cast in silicone by paleoartist John Gurche, Homo naledi is the newest addition to our genus. PHOTOGRAPH BY MARK THIESSEN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
  • Scientists find Homo Naledi in a South African Cave as One of the Missing Links among Early Hominins

Scientists have found Homo naledi as one of the missing links among early hominins.

A group of researchers has claimed the discovery of a new hominin. It is a diminutive creature with a little brain. The find has opened doorways in physical anthropology.

The way early man lived and survived may just get unraveled thanks to this study. More than a dozen individuals, whose bones went up to 1550 pieces in number, were found in a secluded cave in South Africa.

"We found adults and children in the cave who are members of genus Homo but very different from modern humans," said CU Denver Associate Professor of Anthropology Charles Musiba, PhD, who took part in a press conference Thursday near the discovery inside the Rising Star Cave in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site outside Johannesburg, South Africa.

"They are very petite and have the brain size of chimpanzees. The only thing similar we know of are the so-called `hobbits' of Flores Island in Indonesia."

The members of this ancient ancestor of ours consisted of mature samples and children too. They are totally different from modern man. The cave where the remains were found lay outside of Johannesberg.

Most of the species are rather small and their cerebral matter is about the size of a chimp’s. A similarity exists between these creatures and the hobbits of Flores Island in Indonesia. Flores Man’s remains were found a dozen years back. It was just 3.5 feet in height and lived not very far back in prehistoric times.

A composite skeleton of Homo naledi is surrounded by some of the hundreds of other fossil elements recovered from the Dinaledi Chamber in the Rising Star cave in South Africa in this photo from the October National Geographic magazine. The expedition team was led by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand. The find was announced by the University of the Witwatersrand, the National Geographic Society and the South African National Research Found

"The hand has human-like features for manipulation of objects and curved fingers that are well adapted for climbing," said Caley Orr, PhD, an assistant professor of cell and developmental biology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, who analyzed the fossil hands. "But its exact position on our family tree is still unknown."

As for this new species, it has been dubbed Homo naledi and its hands were designed for climbing and grasping objects.

The special species must have held some spiritual beliefs like Neanderthals. This was inferred from the fact that most of the bones of the individuals seem to have been placed in a systematic manner inside the cave. Such rituals seem to show the relics of primitive religious practices.

Care regarding burial is something that is exclusively a human trait. The find was supported and funded by the National Geographic Society. In fact, the upcoming monthly Nat Geo magazine will feature the find on its front cover. Getting inside the grotto of sorts was a formidable task. Half a dozen diggers managed to squeeze their way in.

The National Geographic magazine hits print newsstands in the U.S. Tuesday, September 29. The story is online now with animations, videos, and graphics. (Photo by Mark Thiessen/National Geographic)

"The chamber (in South Africa) has not given up all of its secrets," said Berger, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence. "There are potentially hundreds if not thousands of remains of H. naledi still down there."

The announcement coincides with the publication of two studies about the new species in the journal eLife, co-authored by Musiba and Orr.

However, not all the precious finds have been exhausted. The cave holds a rich supply of hundreds of more Homo naledi bone samples. They will take some time to get unearthed from the debris and rubble.

"Assigning these remains to any known species of Homo is problematic," the study said. "While Homo(naledi) shares aspects of cranial and mandibular morphology with Homohabilis, Homorudolfensis, Homoerectus, MP Homo and Homosapiens, it differs from all of these taxa in its unique combination of derived cranial vault, maxillary, and mandibular morphology."

Scientists are having difficulty judging where to place Homo naledi among the list of early hominins. It is in a class of its own. Its skeletal features are simply too different to make for easy classification.

"If these fossils are late Pliocene or early Pleistocene, it is possible that this new species of small-brained, early Homorepresents an intermediate between Australopithecus and Homoerectus," the study said.

The one species it most resembles is Homo erectus. It figures somewhere between Homo erectus and Australopithecus. But that would make this hominin very ancient in its lineage. The bones found are much more closer to history than prehistory. This of course makes the whole probe problematic.

"This raises many questions," Musiba said. "How many species of human were there? Were their lines that simply extended outward and then disappeared? Did they co-exist with modern humans? Did they interbreed?"

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