Homo Naledi lived with man — three major scientific announcements from Cradle of Human Kind

About 300 000 years ago‚ South Africans shared their land with another human-like species: Homo Naledi.

Professor Lee Berger poses with the skull of Homo naledi skull at the Wits University’s Evolutionary Sciences Institute & Rising Star cave, Cradle of Humankind, North West. The species, Homo naledi, appears to have intentionally deposited bodies of its dead in a remote cave chamber, behaviour previously thought limited to human. Image by: MOELETSI MABE

Today‚ the age of Homo Naledi was announced and it was revealed these species were much younger than thought.

“It is very possible that Homo Naledi‚ this brained species encountered Homo Sapiens (humans).”

The fossils of this new species‚ a human-like creature that walked on two feet and had a very small brain‚ were found in the Cradle of Humankind and announced in 2015 to great fanfare.

At the time‚ Wits Professor Lee Berger said the discovery of the new species was “unprecedented” in palaeontology.

But he faced serious criticism from foreign palaeontologists that the fossils had not been aged.

“I have never been asked more about dating in my life since I was 16‚” Berger joked.

It was difficult to age the bones without damaging them. The Naledi fossils have now been dated.

The dating shows the species to be surprisingly young — between 335‚000 and 236‚ 000 years old.

“This is surprising. It was believed it would have been millions of years in age‚” said Berger

“The species may have been millions of years old but this population was young.”

The fossilised remains of homo Naledi. Consisting of more than 1,550 numbered fossil elements, the discovery is the single largest fossil hominin find yet made on the continent of Africa. The initial discovery was made in 2013 in a cave known as Rising Star in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, some 50 kilometers (30 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, South Africa, by Wits University scientists and volunteer cavers. Image by: MOELETSI MABE

Professor Paul Dirks of James Cook University said: “The dating of Naledi was extremely challenging. Eventually six independent dating methods allowed us to constrain the age of this population of Homo Naledi.”

In order to age Naledi‚ geologists also looked at how sediments in the cave were layered‚ and analysed the geological formations to age the cave in which the skeletons were found.

The cave system was very young. Then scientists used electron spin dating and uranium series dating on the teeth.

This means that in Africa‚ there were other creatures living with man‚ something never known before.

“This is very big‚” said Tawana Kupe‚ dean of research at Wits.

The discovery also means that behaviour thought to be human‚ such as burial and lighting fires‚ could have been done by Homo Naledi.

Two other discoveries were also announced on Wednesday morning at the Cradle of Human Kind.

These were the discovery of a second cave in the system where the first Naledi skeletons were found and the recovery of a complete Naledi skeleton.

The significance of the cave is that it also had remains of Homo Naledi‚ including a “spectacularly complete” skeleton.

He spent hundreds of hours using the bones to reconstruct the skeletons and the face. The skeleton is called Neo‚ Sotho for gift.

The discovery of another cave system adds credence to the theory that this creature disposed of its dead.

Before it was believed only humans buried the dead. But in 2015 it was announced Naledi could have been burying its dead.

Wits Vice Chancellor Adam Habib said the discovery shows: “The university system is alive and functioning very well. It is very important that this university be protected.”

By Paul H. G. M. Dirks et al – http://elifesciences.org/content/4/e09561, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43091783

Fifty-two scientists from 35 departments at various universities were involved in the research.

Habib said: “The true significance of this research shows we belong to a common humanity. That is a fundamental thing.

“In a world of division … when people are looking at their ethnicity to define who gets what and in a world where we are becoming so intolerant of each other‚ this research shows we have very common roots. We represent a common humanity.” – Tiso Black Star Group/Katharine Child


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