Remains of new human species found in South African cave – scientists

September 10, 2015 6:44 pm

 Photo
shows a composite skeleton of Homo naledi surrounded by some of the
hundreds of other fossil elements recovered. Photo / Robert Clark / Lee
Berger

The fossilised bones of 15 bodies from a previously unknown human
species have been discovered in a cave in South Africa, it was announced
Thursday, in what scientists hailed as a breakthrough in evolution
research.
About 1,500 fossils were found deep in a cave system
outside Johannesburg, hidden in a deep underground chamber only
accessible via several steep climbs and rock cavasses.
Experts
are uncertain how the “Homo naledi” remains got there, or even how old
they are, but the discovery could shed fresh light on the origin of the
mankind.
The bones were first discovered in 2013 by Witwatersrand
University scientists and volunteer cavers in the Cradle of Humankind, a
UNESCO World Heritage Site, 50 kilometres (30 miles) northwest of
Johannesburg.
“I am pleased to introduce you to a new species of
human ancestor,” Lee Berger, research professor at the University of the
Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, told reporters at the site.

Ancient human remains have been found in the area since excavations begun in the 1920s.
“The
discovery of so many fossils belonging to at least 15 individuals is
remarkable,” said Professor Chris Stringer, from the Natural History
Museum in London, one of the lead analysts on the discovery.
The
find highlighted “the complexity of the human family tree and the need
for further research to understand the history and ultimate origins of
our species,” Stringer added.
“The deep cave location where the
bones were found suggests that they may have been deposited there by
other humans, indicating surprisingly complex behaviour for a
‘primitive’ human species.”
Scientists say the hands, wrists and
feet of the bodies were similar to modern humans, but the brain size and
upper body were much more like the earliest humans.
“H. naledi
had a tiny brain, about the size of an average orange, perched atop a
very slender body,” said John Hawks, of the University of
Wisconsin-Madison, a senior author on the academic paper detailing the
new species.
Homo naledi stood approximately 1.5 metres (about 5 feet) tall and weighed about 45 kilogrammes (almost 100 pounds).
The
first expedition to the cave chamber in 2013 lasted for 21 days and
involved more than 60 specialist cavers and scientists working in
dangerous underground conditions.

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