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.
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Or they could be H. Erectus. From an article in The Examiner:
Christoph Zollikofer, an anthropologist at the University of Zurich, said that many of the bone characteristics used to claim the creature as a new species are seen in more primitive animals, and by definition cannot be used to define a new species. “The few ‘unique’ features that potentially define the new species need further scrutiny, as they may represent individual variation, or variation at the population level,” he said. Tim White, a paleoanthropologist at the University of California, Berkeley, goes further. “From what is presented here, they belong to a primitive Homo erectus, a species named in the 1800s.”
Interesting information in the comment. I find the comment “patience is a virtue” very true,
Ian Tattersall was quoted in an article on the find that there may be some controversy on placing it in the genus Homo.
His recent book ‘The Strange Case of the Rickety Cossack” is a must-read for those interested in paleoanthropology and human evolution. It appears the science went through a period of time when every new find was classified as its own species; when every find was an ancient ancestor and every one linked to Homo sapiens. Time will tell if this is another such effort.
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