New Species, Homo naledi, of Human found in South Africa
A new human relative has been found in a cave known as the Rising Star in the Cradle of Humankind World heritage Site. Professor Lee Berger, research professor in the Evolutionary Studies Institute at Wits University, discovered the fossils in 2013 and has led 2 expeditions since. The new species of human has been named Homo naledi and is the latest addition to our family tree. The Rising Star cave system is located near Krugersdorp, South Africa and contains more than 1550 fossils belonging to 15 or more individuals.
The findings have been published by Lee Berger and Dr Paul in the open access journal elife and has given new insight into the revolutionary paths humans. Previously only thought to be a human trait, evidence suggests that the hominins deposed of the dead in isolation. The bone fragments were found in a room deep underground which has been named the Dinaledi Chamber, or ‘Chamber of Stars’.
Getting to the chamber was tricking as it required a 30m descent down through small openings. This meant Berger had to find people who were not only small, but were also qualified archaeologists, palaeontologists and cavers. Of the 57 candidates who qualified for the expedition, 6 were scientists and all women.
So many fossils have been recovered that almost every skeletal element of the body is represented several times.
Berger describes Homo naledi as being similar size and weight to small modern humans, with human-like hands and feet. The Homo naledi fossils now make up the largest collection of hominin fossils that have been discovered in Africa so far. The age of the fossils have not yet been dated, however, the scientists believe the fossils could be 100’000 years old.
The fossil bones have not been damaged or gnawed from predators and the location of the deep underground room suggests the hominins new that their dead would be protected there. The cave system is very dark and would require a light source in order to manoeuvre around. This has led to the archaeologist team in believing Homo Naledi used fire to light up the cave system.