Meet Homo Naledi: the ancestor you never knew you had

The discovery of a new species of human relative was announced today. Our distant ancestor is called Homo naledi (meaning “star” in Sesotho), who’s fossil remains were found in a cave 50 kilometres from Johannesburg, South Africa.

The University of the Witwatersrand, theNational Geographic Society and the Department of Science and Technology and the National Research Foundation of South Africa have announced that the discovery of naledi is the single largest fossil hominin find yet made on the continent of Africa — consisting of a total of 1 550 numbered fossil elements.

Homo naledi had a tiny brain, about the size of an average orange (about 500 cubic centimeters), perched atop a very slender body,” describes John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The research further shows that, on average, naledi stood approximately 1.5 meters tall and weighed about 45 kilograms — super small compared to the average human.

“With almost every bone in the body represented multiple times, Homo naledi is already practically the best-known fossil member of our lineage,” said Lee Berger, research professor from the Evolutionary Studies Institute in a press release.

So far, the team has recovered parts of at least 15 individuals of the same species, a small fraction of the fossils believed to remain in the chamber. Researchers suggest that because all the remains were found at the same site, the discovery suggests some sort of ritualised behaviour previously thought to be unique to humans.

“Overall, Homo naledi looks like one of the most primitive members of our genus, but it also has some surprisingly human-like features, enough to warrant placing it in the genus Homo,” added Hawks.

A reconstruction of Homo naledi’s head by paleoartist John Gurche, who spent some 700 hours recreating the head from bone scans. width=

Image via National Geographic.



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