The Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site near Johannesburg, South Africa has once again produced bones. Previous finds, nearly one third of all ancient hominin fossils found, date to 3.5 million years of age. This new find may be the bones of our ancestor, but regardless, they certainly are the bones of a new, previously unknown, species.
The announcement came this week and articles can be seen online in several locations. The National Geographic Society is a partner in the excavation and retrieval of the bones from a very difficult cave, Rising Star, through only a very small opening following a precipitous decline. Stated bluntly – this is a “scare the hell out of you” cave. Not exactly convenient or inviting.
There was more than one skeleton present. In this article and video from the New York Times, you can see that many bones were recovered, quite obviously from multiple individuals. More than 1550 in total – representing at least 15 different individuals. How did they get in this extremely remote cave with very limited access in the first place? And why?
Is this a separate species from ours, or our ancestors? How long ago did they live, and where do they fit on the family tree? The scientists are now referring to the ancient family tree as a braided stream – a river that divides into channels only to converge again later.
These announcements are being followed by a special on Nova/National Geographic Special titled the “Dawn of Humanity” which premieres on Sept. 16, 2015 at 9 PM ET/8 Central on PBS and is streaming online now. This documentary details the discovery and excavation of the fossils in the cave including Homo Naledi.
In the mean time, take a look at this wonderful article, chock full of pictures of course, by National Geographic. If you subscribe to the National Geographic magazine, guess what will be on the cover of the October issue???
This article in New Scientist has a great reconstruction of the Homo Naledi skull, and states that no attempt has yet been made to extract DNA. I continue to remind myself that patience is a virtue.