Homo naledi, new specie of Homo
A team of scientists have discovered Homo naledi which is a new specie of extinct homonin within Dinaledi chamber of the rising star cave system, Cradle of human kind, South Africa. The Dinaledi chamber is located approximately 30 meters underground, within the Rising Star cave system at about 26°1′13′′ S; 27°42′43′′ E. The system lies within the Malmani dolomites, approximately 800 meters southwest of the well-known site of Swartkrans in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, Gauteng Province, South Africa. Modern humans, orHomo sapiens, are now the only living species in their genus. But as recently as 100,000 years ago, there were several other species that belonged to the genusHomo. Together with modern humans, these extinct human species, our immediate ancestors and their close relatives, are collectively referred to as ‘hominins’.
Fossil hominins were first recognized in the Dinaledi Chamber in the Rising Star cave system in October 2013. During a relatively short excavation, our team recovered an extensive collection of 1550 hominin specimens, representing nearly every element of the skeleton multiple times, including many complete elements and morphologically informative fragments, some in articulation, as well as smaller fragments many of which could be refit into more complete elements. The collection is a morphologically homogeneous sample that can be attributed to no previously-known hominin species. Here we describe this new species,Homo naledi. We have not definedH. naledi narrowly based on a single jaw or skull because the entire body of material has informed our understanding of its biology.
Now Berger et al. report the recent discovery of an extinct species from the genusHomo that was unearthed from deep underground in what has been named the Dinaledi Chamber, in the Rising Star cave system in South Africa. The species was namedHomo naledi; ‘naledi’ means ‘star’ in Sotho (also called Sesotho), which is one of the languages spoken in South Africa.
The unearthed fossils were from at least 15 individuals and include multiple examples of most of the bones in the skeleton. Based on this wide range of specimens from a single site, Berger et al. describeHomo naledi as being similar in size and weight to a small modern human, with human-like hands and feet. Furthermore, while the skull had several unique features, it had a small braincase that was most similar in size to other early hominin species that lived between four million and two million years ago.Homo naledi's ribcage, shoulders and pelvis also more closely resembled those of earlier hominin species than those of modern humans.
TheHomo naledi fossils are the largest collection of a single species of hominin that has been discovered in Africa so far and, in a related study, Dirks et al. describe the setting and context for these fossils. However, since the age of the fossils remains unclear, one of the next challenges will be to date the remains to provide more information about the early evolution of humans and their close relatives.