Homo naledi shows an extraordinary combination of primitive and modern features. Indeed, this discover brings up more questions than it answers.
When scientists made their way deep into a South African cave two years ago, they had hoped luck would yield them enough fragments to confidently announce the finding of an ancient creature. Instead, they found a burial ground with more than 1,550 bones, all belonging in a hitherto unknown humanoid species.
“I spent the last two summers looking at every fossil tooth I could get my hands on, and the new South African fossils don’t match anything,” said Lucas Delezene, a member of the team that uncovered the bones.
They found a new ancestor of mankind.
The new species has been named Homo naledi. Naledi means star in the local language. The creatures have wrists and fingers like we do as well as ankles which allowed them to stand on their tip toes- just like us. Most shocking of all is the notion that these primitive beings buried their dead. This revelation shakes the theory of the ‘birth of consciousness’ to its core.
Indeed, this discover brings up more questions than it answers. It could very well change everything we know about the evolution of human beings.
The new species definitely belongs to the Homo genus because of its humanoid features and its ability to use tools. At first, scientist believed it was simply a smaller version of Homo erectus. The skulls are similar in shape. Both have the same shape face and the same kind of teeth, although the brain cavitiy of the Homo naledi is far smaller than Homo erectus.
Yet the rest of the body, especially the arms and shoulders, are more similar to Lucy, the ancient humanoid found in Ethiopia of the Australopithecus species. The result is that Homo naledi is a creature that has a mixture of characteristics known to species throughout the evolution of Homo sapiens.
Most startling of all is the idea that Homo naledi displayed the very human characteristic of burying their dead. The passage scientists had to crawl through was extremely narrow and difficult to traverse. The cave at the end, deep underground, only contained the Homo naledi remains. This has lead scientists to believe that they were intentionally deposited there.
No other species has displayed such a tendency, certainly not for such a large population.
The sheer number of specimens found in this cave lends credit to the theory of a nascent society living in the area.
Scientists have begun the process of radiocarbon dating and digging in the cave to extract more fossils. It will be some time yet before any answers emerge to just what Homo naledi means for mankind.