A new species of hominin (a taxonomic group of hominids including recent humans and extinct ancestral and related forms) was announced last Thursday by a collective international team of more than 60 scientists. This team, led by Lee R. Berger, acknowledged that a species named, H. naledi has a close common ancestry with humans today.
More than 1,550 fossil elements were found making this area the largest sample for any hominin species in a single excavation site. According to two open-access journal papers, researchers believes even more fossils have yet to be found. What’s more, this discovery of secluded fossil oases suggests that the H. naledi buried their dead, a practice thought to be an attribute of only modern humans. Burial practices are typically associated with a type of religious rite, so scientists claim that early human ancestors may have conducted the practice out of habit or ritual instead of religious intent.
As of now, researches have yet to determine specific dates for the H. naledi fossils, many of which are difficult to measure given the absence of fauna remains.However, researchers were able to conclude that this particular species possessed a brain no larger than an orange. Conclusively, the root of its origin is expected to exceed 2.5 million years. The University of Wisconsin, Madison’s John Hawks described the species as “unlike any other species seen before.” Signs suggest that the average H. naledi weighed a mere 100 pounds, touting a modest 5 foot frame.
Dr. Berger’s current research has been backed by the University of Witwatersrant, the National Geographic Society, and the South African Department of Science and Technology/National Research Foundation. Current findings will be featured in the October issue of National Geographic Magazine and a two-hour NOVA/National Geographic documentary slated to air this Wednesday on PBS.
For more information, check out National Geographic’s write-up here: This Face Changes the Human Story. But How?