New prehuman species “Homo naledi” found in South Africa

Sample skeleton found by Berger and his associates at the Homo Naledi site

Sample skeleton found by Berger and his associates at the Homo Naledi site

In September 2015, a research team led by Lee Burger, who discovered the Australopithecus sediba fossils in 2010, announced that they have uncovered a treasure-trove of fossils from a new hominin species, which they have named “Homo naledi.” To date they have catalogued 1,550 individual fossil elements, which is by far the largest number of hominin fossil fragments ever found at a single site. These fossil elements represent parts of at least 15 individuals, and some of these skeletons are nearly complete. This amazing find is in stark contrast to most hominin fossil finds, where little more than a handful of isolated fragments from a single individual are identified. The researchers are as mystified as anyone as to how and why these human remains were placed in this remote chamber of the cave, which required extra-slim investigators (all of the women) to reach. Although precise radiometric dates are not yet available, the researchers estimate the ages as 2-3 million years. This places the fossils as more recent than most Australopithecus species, but more ancient than known Homo species.

Full details are given in a New York Times article, a New Scientist article and a BBC article. Photo at right is from the BBC site.

For additional background details and discussion, see SMR article on prehuman fossils.

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