New Potential Species in Human Lineage Discovered

An artist's forensic depiction of 'homo naledi', man's newest ancestor. (Mark Theissen/National Geographic)

An artist’s forensic depiction of ‘homo naledi’, man’s newest ancestor. (Mark Theissen/National Geographic)

New Potential Species in Human Lineage Discovered

A group of scientists have unearthed a potential candidate for ‘new species of human’—one that could shake the very foundation of our understanding of our evolution and even our identity among mammalians. The newest (or is it oldest?) potential members of our humanoid family tree are being termed “Homo naledi.”

The team, comprised mostly of intrepid, cave-navigating women, discovered and classified the fossils under the guidance of Lee Berger, a professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. The University was located relatively close to where the remains were located in the Rising Star Cave (“nadeli” literally means “star”). Berger and company were tipped off by local spelunkers, and knew almost immediately that they had stumbled upon something extraordinary.

They Buried Their Dead

One of the more fascinating and revealing elements of the find is that the ‘Homo Naledi’ inhabitants seemed to have created burials in isolated areas of the cave for the deceased members of their tribe, a behavior scientists previously regarded as exclusive to humans. This burial ritual in this deep, difficult-to-get-to area of the cave created a perfect protective site for the preservation of the bodies, which were discovered with minimal disturbance.

“We have just encountered another species that perhaps thought about its own mortality, and went to great risk and effort to dispose of its dead in a deep, remote, chamber right behind us,” declared Berger as he stood at the entrance of the cave.

“There is no damage from predators, there is no sign of a catastrophe. We had to come to the inevitable conclusion that Homo naledi, a non-human species of hominid, was deliberately disposing of its dead in that dark chamber. Why, we don’t know,” Berger told CNN. “Until the moment of discovery of ‘naledi,’ I would have probably said to you that it was our defining character. The idea of burial of the dead or ritualized body disposal is something utterly uniquely human.”

A side by side comparison of the naledi and the modern human skull. (John Hawks/Thinkstock/BBC)

A side by side comparison of the naledi and the modern human skull. (John Hawks/Thinkstock/BBC)

Age of Relative Undetermined

Since the team has not yet been able to date the fossils, Berger couldn’t definitively tell us exactly how old our “new” ancient relatives are—but it’s probably safe to say that there were no smart phones exhumed during the dig. However, Berger did posit that the notion may now be facing an identity crisis.

“It absolutely questions what makes us human. And I don’t think we know anymore what does.”

Just how big of a story is this?

“This is like opening up Tutankhamen’s tomb,” said Berger. “It is that extreme and perhaps that influential in this stage of our history.”

Homo naledi stood about 5 feet tall, long legs, and feet almost identical to ours, which suggests they could walk long distances.

Bones found at the site. (John Hawks/BBC)

Bones found at the site. (John Hawks/BBC)

“Overall, Homo naledi looks like one of the most primitive members of our genus, but it also has some surprisingly human-like features, enough to warrant placing it in the genus Homo,” says John Hawks, a senior author on the papers describing the new species.

Africa has long been thought of as the “cradle of civilization” or point of origin in human evolution, so is this the elusive missing link we’ve been searching for? We don’t know yet. Even Berger himself is hesitant to commit to categorizing the naledi as fully “human.”

So what do you think of your potential new family members? Comment below, Share your thoughts on Facebook and join the discussion on Twitter using hashtag #DMtalk.

Find out more about The Human Lineage ~sls
Staff Writer

Leo Ashcraft

A retired broadcast engineer, talk show host, news reporter - I have done everything there is to do in the radio broadcast business. I worked a year in television. I left that as my true passion has always been radio - plus I got tired of hearing - you have a face for radio.. I hope you enjoy my articles! Be sure to share them excessively on facebook - like our page and bug your friends with invites!

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1 Response

  1. September 11, 2015

    […] Dark Matter News “It absolutely questions what makes us human. And I don’t think we know anymore what does.” The post New Potential Species in Human Lineage Discovered appeared first on Dark Matter News. […]

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