Remains of New Hominid Species Discovered in South African Caves

Remains of New Hominid Species Discovered in South African Caves

homo naledi

A "grave" of the remains of a new species of non-human hominid is found in a South African cave, with the remains estimated at more than 2 million years old.

A spelunking expedition discovered them in Rising Star caves, located within South Africa's famous Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site. But finally, after almost two years of research, scientists have been able to determine the huge significance of the remains of 15 bodies found in a cave in South Africa: It is a new species of hominid closely related to humans.

Dubbed Homo naledi, the find shows off a species that had both primitive and modern features. Not only that, but scientists believe this mass find of bones in a single spot shows that the species actually disposed of their dead in a way to keep them from harm. While 15 bodies have been found so far, research leader Lee Berger believes there may be plenty more. "The floor is practically made of bones of these individuals," he said.

Previously, the thought of burying the dead in a safe area was believed to be a characteristic of modern humans. This discovery appears to throw that theory out the window. "What does that mean for us?" Berger asked. "Did we inherit it, has it always been there in our lineage, or did they invent it?"

The species is determined to have been about 5-feet-tall on average, but only about 100 pounds. Despite the size, the brain development was still fairly small, with a female brain estimated to be the size of a chimpanzee. The remains - bot male and female - showed many similar qualities, leading scientists to conclude that this was a single family spanning multiple generations.

Scientists say the pelvis and shoulders are relatively primitive, but the fingers are curved, allowing the ability to grasp items, and the feet are almost identical to current humans, making climbing easy. "We can infer from their bodies that they are long-distance walkers, again that's something almost unique to humans," Berger said. "And it's pretty clear from those fingers that they're climbing, but we don't know what they're climbing. That's not a tree climbing hand."

For more details on the find, check out the feature in National Geographic.

Source: The University of Witwatersrand, in collaboration with National Geographic, via IFLScience

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New Hominid remains uncovered? Take it away Spock:

https://youtu.be/cFods1KSWsQ

Damn that snout looks very ape like.

Always interesting to see the gaps in evolution filled in.

Note to the writer: This is a "Non-human hominid" or a close relative of early humans with many similar attributes with the established homo genus which is why it deserves the classical homo genus classification while not being human (aka, us). Please update the title and article to utilize correct scientific terminology here. Something like "...New Hominid Species...". For it to be considered "human" it would need to be a direct ancestor of ours and not a branch off of the same tree we branched from. This would almost be like calling Chimpanzees another species of human but they differ enough to at least have a pan genus classification rather than being homo. So they're close but not as close as these new kids on the block.

Cut to the 1:40 mark to hear the guy in charge of the whole project say exactly those words, "Non-human hominid". This is a non-human relative of humans.

The remarkable nature of this find isn't that they are human, because they aren't, it's that they were burying their dead, a practice we thought was unique to us as humans for a variety of reasons.

erttheking:
Damn that snout looks very ape like.

Always interesting to see the gaps in evolution filled in.

They aren't ancestors of humans. They are relatives of humans via a common ancestor. Here's from their question and answer document on the site the article listed:

As a result, our team has proposed the testable hypothesis that the common ancestor of H. naledi, H. erectus, and H. sapiens shared humanlike manipulable capabilities and terrestrial bipedality, with hands and feet like H. naledi, an australopith-like pelvis and the H. erectus-like aspects of cranial morphology that are found in H. naledi. Future fossil discoveries in the Dinaledi Chamber and elsewhere will certainly help us to test this hypothesis.
d

This is just one of those things where the terminology has to be exactly right and you really can't expect journalists to secretly double as expert scientists too. So hopefully my explanation helps. Had this been an earlier ancestor of humans then that would have been even more interesting. But that they are non-humans behaving like humans is still a remarkable discovery if not one of the most important discoveries of the past several decades on sentient anthropology whereas anthropology itself is typically a term reserved for humans since we thought we were the only ones that did this kind of stuff.

Lightknight:
Note to the writer: snip

Thanks for the education. I'll try to tweak it a bit.

John Keefer:

Lightknight:
Note to the writer: snip

Thanks for the education. I'll try to tweak it a bit.

Great article though, I'm very happy you brought it to the escapist.

Lightknight:
For it to be considered "human" it would need to be a direct ancestor of ours and not a branch off of the same tree we branched from.

Shouldn't only Homo Sapiens be human? If our direct ancestor from the genus Homo is considered human then all his descendants must be human too, right? Otherwise, H. antecessor would be human but H. neanderthalensis wouldn't. That makes no sense to me, you can't stop being something.

interesting read. its always amazing how far we go and how things have changed so dramatically. the way we develop to suit to an environment throughout time makes you wonder how much we will change in 5000 years.

Life is an indeed a mysterious adventure. We found a new old hominid species. Just when ya think you know everything...

Major_Tom:

Lightknight:
For it to be considered "human" it would need to be a direct ancestor of ours and not a branch off of the same tree we branched from.

Shouldn't only Homo Sapiens be human? If our direct ancestor from the genus Homo is considered human then all his descendants must be human too, right? Otherwise, H. antecessor would be human but H. neanderthalensis wouldn't. That makes no sense to me, you can't stop being something.

Hi
I don't think he meant that all our ancestors are human, but that only homo sapiens and our closest ancestors are considered human. If homo naledi is a new species (which is not fully accepted yet) it would be closest to homo erectus, and thus not direct ancestors. It should also be understood that in evolutionary terms, species are differentiated by gradients. If we go far enough back, we all have common ancestors, and taxonomic terms are more for us to make sense of it than to suggest that species are more distinct than they really are.
(Full disclosure, I'm a social anthropologist, not an evolutionary anthropologist, so please correct me if I was wrong on any point)

Alexander Page:

Major_Tom:

Lightknight:
For it to be considered "human" it would need to be a direct ancestor of ours and not a branch off of the same tree we branched from.

Shouldn't only Homo Sapiens be human? If our direct ancestor from the genus Homo is considered human then all his descendants must be human too, right? Otherwise, H. antecessor would be human but H. neanderthalensis wouldn't. That makes no sense to me, you can't stop being something.

Hi
I don't think he meant that all our ancestors are human, but that only homo sapiens and our closest ancestors are considered human. If homo naledi is a new species (which is not fully accepted yet) it would be closest to homo erectus, and thus not direct ancestors. It should also be understood that in evolutionary terms, species are differentiated by gradients. If we go far enough back, we all have common ancestors, and taxonomic terms are more for us to make sense of it than to suggest that species are more distinct than they really are.
(Full disclosure, I'm a social anthropologist, not an evolutionary anthropologist, so please correct me if I was wrong on any point)

Exactly, though I wouldn't necessarily say it is closest to h. erectus. H. Nadeli is to h. sapiens as h. erectus is to h. sapiens. Three distinct branches out of a common trunk that may or may not be closer to one another. Though there is still an argument that h. erectus is actually a direct ancestor of h. sapiens but I have no idea if that debate was ever resolved but I think the final verdict was that erectus was distinct as the graph below shows. You can say that the trunk (aka the common ancestor) is an earlier form of human just as it is an earlier form of erectus and nadeli but under no circumstances could you say that erectus and nadeli are human. You can make the argument that all of the species leading up to human are human ancestors and ergo early humans even if that isn't strictly correct but you cannot claim that distinct branches which never touch our own are humans in any sense of the word. Relatives? Yes. Hominids? Sure. But not humans.

image

Note that only overlapping species can have any direct interaction with the other species. So erectus never overlaps with us but neanderthalensis and rhodesiensis do. This indicates that rhodesienses is our immediate ancestor and that neanderthalensis can have interactions (I believe we recently learned that there was some cross breeding in Europe. Graphs like these can vary from each other because of discoveries in the field and alternate theories. These will also all have to be redrawn to include this new addition to the homo genus.

Alexander Page:

Hi
I don't think he meant that all our ancestors are human, but that only homo sapiens and our closest ancestors are considered human. If homo naledi is a new species (which is not fully accepted yet) it would be closest to homo erectus, and thus not direct ancestors. It should also be understood that in evolutionary terms, species are differentiated by gradients. If we go far enough back, we all have common ancestors, and taxonomic terms are more for us to make sense of it than to suggest that species are more distinct than they really are.
(Full disclosure, I'm a social anthropologist, not an evolutionary anthropologist, so please correct me if I was wrong on any point)

Even as far back as the Australopithicenes are referred to as "human" depending on the literature. The distinction with "modern human" makes me think they're going that route here. It's my understanding that this has long been falling to disuse, but still seems to persist. The problem, as you reference, is that there are no bright lines, only gradients. This doesn't just apply to species, but sometimes the language surrounding them.

 

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