Homo naledi might’ve roamed Earth alongside us, new findings suggest

homo naledi elifesciences age

Homo naledi, an extinct species of homonim, was woken from her long slumber in September 2015, but a breakthrough at the same Cradle Of Humankind site suggests that her story is only just beginning.

Back in 2015, scientists extracted over 1550 fossil specimens from the Rising Star cave system, but no one could accurately suggest the age of these.

Estimates varied. Some suggested that the fossils were beyond a million years old. But those responsible for the discovery, alongside a slew of worldwide scientists and institutions, have now formulated a method to date the fossils, effectively shining a light on Homo naledi’s role in human evolution.

Findings from “more than 30” international institutions and scientists suggests that Homo naledi could’ve been roaming the now-African continent as recently as 236 000 years ago.

So no, it wasn’t seen last week in Sandton City ordering a coffee, but this date is no less significant.

Noting that Homo sapiens — our distant relatives — lived during a similar era, both species could’ve been roaming the Earth simultaneously. And considering Homo naledi’s quirky features — namely, its short, light stature and small brain — it survived an awfully long time.

This could also mean a number of other things. For one, it could suggest that Homo naledi’s disappearance from modern history could’ve been influenced by Homo sapiens. It’s not farfetched, but the team cannot yet make a concrete assumption.

It throws some other curve balls at previous thinking too.

“We can no longer assume that we know which species made which tools, or even assume that it was modern humans that were the innovators of some of these critical technological and behavioural breakthroughs in the archaeological record of Africa,” notes Wits Professor Lee Berger.

Homo naledi was a breakthrough discovery in 2015 but scientists couldn’t date the fossils, until now

Additionally, the team has also discovered a second chamber at the Rising Star system, which contains other Homo naledi specimens.

“These include a child and a partial skeleton of an adult male with a remarkably well-preserved skull,” the researchers note.

The researchers also suggest that this second chamber system suggests that Homo naledi might’ve actively buried its dead.

Judging by the newly discovered cave system, it’s also probably safe to say that this isn’t the last we hear of Homo naledi, even if it hasn’t been actively roaming the earth in over 200 000 years.

Have a look at the two extremely long but remarkably important research papers here, here, and here.

Feature image: Hawks, et al. via eLifeScience

Andy Walker


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