New Species Unearthed in the Human Lineage

Skeletal fossils of Homo naledi are pictured in the Wits bone vault at the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, on Sept. 13, 2014. The fossils are among nearly 1,700 bones and teeth retrieved from a nearly inaccessible cave near Johannesburg. The fossil trove was created, scientists believe, by Homo naledi repeatedly secreting the bodies of their dead companions in the cave. Analysis of the fossils -- part of a project known as the Rising Star Expedition -- was led in part by paleoanthropologist John Hawks, professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. (Photo by John Hawks/University of Wisconsin-Madison)
(Photo by John Hawks/University of Wisconsin-Madison)

Exciting news today in the genus Homo: a new hominin species, dubbed Homo naledi has been discovered in South Africa! A team led by Lee Berger recently retrieved the largest and most complete assemblage of hominin bones ever found in Africa. The bones were discovered in a part of the World Heritage site called “The Cradle of Mankind,” the same system where A. africanus was first discovered.

The nearly 1700 bones, from around 15 individuals of various ages and genders, represent a brand new species with qualities that do not match any other members of the genusWhile there have been problems dating the fossils, the researchers currently believe the bones to be between 2-3 million years old.

The most interesting aspect of this find, to me, is that based on their location within the caves, these remains were placed there intentionally. If the researcher’s guesses regarding date turn out to be true, this might be one of the earliest known “burials” of any kind in the human lineage.

This is bloody awesome science–adding to our knowledge of the human lineage is important in order to understand how we evolved. Here’s a really cool image that shows where naledi fits on our family tree:

Tree of humankind with skulls representing the different species, including the newest addition “Homo Naledi” added to the “Homo” branch of the tree. This illustration was created for an article about paleoanthropologist John Hawks, a leader of the Rising Star Expedition that discovered Homo Naledi, this new species of hominid, whose partial skull has been added to the hominid tree here. Homo Naledi existed in South Africa. Timeline: hundreds of thousands to millions of years ago (at time of this illustration, this was the current time span known). (Illustration by S.V. Medaris/UW-Madison)
Tree of humankind with skulls representing the different species, including the newest addition “Homo Naledi” added to the “Homo” branch of the tree. This illustration was created for an article about paleoanthropologist John Hawks, a leader of the Rising Star Expedition that discovered Homo Naledi, this new species of hominid, whose partial skull has been added to the hominid tree here. Homo Naledi existed in South Africa. Timeline: hundreds of thousands to millions of years ago (at time of this illustration, this was the current time span known). (Illustration by S.V. Medaris/ Text by UW-Madison)

If you want to check out more images, plus some cool videos and other resources about this find, check here.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s