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New Species Of Human Found In South African Cave

September 11, 2015 3 min read

Meet Homo naledi!  01_ngm_1015_MM8345_mystery_man_mark_thiessen H. naledi is an ancient ancestor of modern day humans that was discovered two years ago by amateur cavers in a South African cave system known as Rising Star. From here, the Rising Star Expedition began. The 21-day expedition included 60 scientist and volunteer cavers. They expected to retrieve only one skeleton but three days into the project they realized they had stumbled upon something else, something meaningful. What they found were 15 individuals from a single hominin species. 1,500 fossil elements were found in a completely dark chamber, some 90 meters (295 feet) from the entrance. Homo naledi The team believes there are likely thousands of remains still left untouched. “The floor is practically made of bones of these individuals,” said research leader Lee Berger. The skeletal remains encompass all age groups, from infancy to the elderly and seem to possess both primitive and human like characteristics. H. naledi was bipedal and stood about 5 feet tall, was slender and had well muscled joints. Although they were tall, they had exceptionally small heads which also means small brains. There were also very few differences between males and females. Actually, all of the individuals found are remarkably similar. More similar, in fact, than looking at a set of identical human twins, says Berger. This has lead researchers to believe that the individuals were closely related -- perhaps a multi-generational family. This species is interesting in the way it transitions from primitive features to modern ones. The upper part of the body, shoulders and pelvis is very primitive with a cone shaped core but the extremities are far more human. The hands are very human like, except for the extremely curved fingers and their feet are relatively indistinguishable from humans, even striking the ground in a similar way. Their shoulders, however, rotated to a greater degree than modern humans which suggests that the species was engaged in climbing. So how was it that this group came to find themselves in this difficult to access cave? No other species (save for a few rodents and some birds) were found in this chamber and one of the narrowest cracks was only 17.5 centimetres wide! After ruling out a bunch of scenarios, like mass death and transport by water, the researchers were left with one possible conclusion: the species was deliberately and intentionally disposing of their dead in a protected area. Before now, this practice was believed to exist only in modern humans. “What does that mean for us?” ponders Berger. “Did we inherit it, has it always been there in our lineage, or did they invent it?” Aside from possible ritual burials, what else do we know about them? “Nothing,” Berger told IFLScience. “We can infer from their bodies that they are long-distance walkers, again that’s something almost unique to humans. And it’s pretty clear from those fingers that they’re climbing, but we don’t know what they’re climbing. That’s not a tree climbing hand.” CJ75h9Y At this point, we don't know the age of the species or how long it walked the earth. It is at least 2 million years old, likely closer to 3 million and as Berger says, a candidate for the base of our genus. Pretty amazing discovery! What do you think? Are you excited by this find and looking forward to possibly learning more about human origins? Source: IFLScience Do you follow us on Instagram? [caption id="attachment_108834" align="alignnone" width="100"]snapchat code @BodyRockTV[/caption]

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