A new haul of bones sheds surprising light on human evolution
Probing deeper into the South African cave system known as Rising Star, a subterranean maze that last year yielded the largest cache of hominin fossils known to science, an international team of researchers has discovered another chamber with more remains of a newfound human relative: Homo naledi.
The discovery, announced with the publication of a series of papers in the journal eLife, helps round out the picture of a creature that scientists now know shared the landscape with modern humans - and probably other hominin species - between 226,000 and 335,000 years ago. The discovery of the new fossils include the remains of at least three juvenile and adult specimens including a ‘wonderfully complete skull’, says University of Wisconsin-Madison anthropologist John Hawks.
The new chamber, dubbed the Lesedi Chamber, is nearly 100 metres from the Dinaledi Chamber where the first Homo
naledi fossils representing at least 15 individuals of various ages were found. The new chamber is also exceedingly difficult to access, requiring those excavating the fossils to crawl, climb and squeeze their way in pitch dark to the fossil cache.
The skeleton of the third individual, is remarkably complete. The skull has been painstakingly reconstructed, providing a much more complete portrait of Homo naledi. “We finally get a look at the face of Homo naledi,” notes Peter Schmid, of Wits and the University of Zurich, who spent hundreds of hours painstakingly reconstructing the fragile bones.
‘Neo’, skull of Homo naledi from the Lesedi Chamber