New Human-like Species Found in South African Cave


Scientists have found the remains of a new human-like species in a cave system in South Africa that may be a burial chamber.  There are 15 partial skeletons in the spot, the largest single discovery of this nature on the continent and could, according to those responsible for the find, change our ideas of our ancestors.

The studies have been published in the Elife and indicate that these ancestors may have been capable of ritual behaviour.

Homo naledi

The species has been given the name Homo naledi, showing it is part of the Homo genus that we modern humans belong to.  As of yet, the scientists are unsure how long these creatures lived but the lead scientists Prof Lee Berger, said he believed that they could be one of the first of the Homo genus and may have lived in Africa some three million years ago.

The team are careful not to use the term ‘missing link’ like many in their field but see the new species as a potential bridge between primitive bipedal primates and humans.

The team has entered the cave hoping to find a single fossil.  This quickly turned into multiple fossils from multiple individual’s skeletons.  By the end of the 21-day dig, they had the largest collection of fossil human relatives found on Africa.

Another expert, Prof Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum, said that we are seeing more and more species that seem to indicate an experiment from nature about how to evolve humans, with several human-like species arising across Africa with overlapping time periods.  Of all of these, one survived to become the modern human.


There are 15 partial skeletons of both males and females and of varying ages.  This means that scientists are going to be able to learn a great deal about the species including how they developed, differences between the genders at different stages and how they died.

The skeletons show a creature very different to anything previously discovered.  Its brain was small, about the size of a gorillas and it had primitive pelvis and shoulders.  But the shape of its skull was more progressive along with small teeth, long legs and modern-looking feet.  These were the factors that led it to be classified as a Homo genus species.

Another fascinating question remains how the remains ended up in their location.  The area is known as the Cradle of Humankind and small women were chosen to venture into the cage because the tunnel was so narrow.  They faced a precarious twenty-minute journal to get to the bones.  Among those who entered the cave was Marina Elliott.  She likened the experience to how Howard Carter must have felt when opening the tomb of Tutankhamun in Egypt.

The group believe that the Homo naledi people carried the individuals to the spot and placed them in the chamber, possibly over the course of generations.  If this were the case, this would show they were capable of ritual behaviour and even possibly symbolic thought, something that was only thought to have occurred within the last 200,000 years.

Prof Berger added that this kind of behaviour may have come from deep time and was something that the earliest humans had been capable of rather than something unique to modern species.


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