Homo Naledi: New Species in the Human Lineage

A reconstruction of Homo naledi's face by paleoartist John Gurche (Source: National Geographic)
A reconstruction of Homo naledi’s face by paleoartist John Gurche (Source: National Geographic)

I know this is old news, but I had to go back to the discovery of the Homo naledi a few months ago. For starters, the word naledi means “star” in the Sotho language, and comes from the name of the Dinaledi chamber (chamber of stars) of the Rising Star cave system where the fossils were found. South African researchers unveiled Homo naledi last September after discovering the remains of 15 individuals in the Rising Star Cave near Johannesburg. The bones have yet to be dated, making it hard to evaluate where the Homo naledi would fit within the history of the human kind. However, a few information have been gathered.

Homo naledi skeletal specimen (Source: Wikipedia)
Homo naledi skeletal specimen (Source: Wikipedia)

Homo naledi was small and slender with a tiny brain compared to modern humans, but with a human-like skull. The adult males stood at about 150 cm (5 ft) tall, with the females a little shorter. The physical characteristics of H. naledi are described as having traits similar to the genus Australopithecus, mixed with traits more characteristic of the genus Homo, and traits not known in other hominin species. From the first excavations, the hand and feet bones looked unusual, bearing the hallmarks of a creature that made and used stone tools, was an accomplished climber, and stood upright. Studies on the wrist and thumb show that Homo naledi had a powerful grasp.

Until further dating, many questions arise: where does the homo naledi fit in the human evolution? How long ago did the species emerge, and did it live in parallel with other species, in isolation? How related is it to the Homo erectus? Could the Homo naledi and the Home erectus ever have lived in the same era? With these findings in South Africa, it seems that we, humans, are just scratching the surface of so much mystery and know so little! There is so much to learn, and so much to uncover! (Just a parenthesis: as a scientist, I am just stupefied that the people in the video below would touch these fossils with bare hands… and wear no gloves… come’ on this is a million years old specimen!)

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