Homo naledi discovered in 2015 in the cave system called the Rising Star Cave in South Africa may have lived at the same time as Homo sapiens. Researchers theorized that the Homo naledi lived between over 300 to 200 thousands years ago, this discovery and the resulting study was published in the recent journal eLife. The remains of the Homo naledi were found in the Dinaledi Chamber which is part of the Rising Star Cave system. The hominin remains found included specimens of a young child and part of an adult with a skull. Researchers were from the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, James Cook University in Australia, and the University of Wisconsin the U.S.
The Homo naledi are an extinct species of humans. They were found in South Africa in the Rising Star Cave system which is part of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site which is situated northwest of Johannesburg. In 2015, researchers found over 1500 specimens in the cave. They are described as being small-bodied with smaller skulls shaped like the early Homo species. The species are named after the word star in the Sotho language.
The researchers, led by Professor Lee Berger at Wits University, found the remains in a chamber that they believe the Homo naledi buried their dead in these particular caverns which were difficult to reach, according to the press release by Wits University. In the paper, the team dated the relatively recent remains. The fossils, the team found, had features that modern humans have. Dating the remains was “extremely challenging,” said Paul Dirks of James Cook University. The team of researchers used several different methods of dating the fossils, zeroing in on the Middle Pleistocene period.
Because of this, the researchers speculate that the Homo naledi lived as long as “two million years alongside other species of hominins in Africa.” Previous theories stated that only the Homo sapiens lived during this time in what is currently Africa. It is also speculated that during this period ancestors of humans started exhibiting “complex modern human activities” that include death rituals and using sophisticated tools like stone-tipped spears and other tools made of several different materials.
Using many different techniques to link the sediments to the “geological timescale,” researchers established a preliminary date of the Homo naledi. Then using the teeth found in skeletons, the researchers further narrowed their time of existence using complex dating systems. Another researcher who worked on the study, Hannah Hilbert-Wolf from James Cook University said that it was “crucial” to see how the sediments were “layered” to establish the timeline.
Berger went on to state that the discovery was important and had a “significant impact” on how scientists understand archaeological sites and artifacts. John Hawks, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, stated that the “southern half of Africa was home to a diversity that we’ve never seen anywhere else.” But still, even with all these findings, researchers believe that there are still many more years of research ahead of them. For now, the fossils found at the site will be displayed at the Maropeng located at the Official Visitors Center for the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site.
By Cheryl Werber
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