A major announcement happened today: the publication of Homo naledi, a new species of the genus Homo found in the Dinaledi Chamber, in the Rising Star cave, South Africa.
‘Naledi’ is an African name that originates from the Sesotho tribe in southern Africa. It means ‘star’.
About the hominid
- 1,550 fossils from at least 15 individuals. Full range of ages, from birth to old age.
- They are the most complete assemblage of fossils from a candidate of human ancestor. All part of the bodies are represented in the assemblage. The comprehensive sample of Homo naledi bones is richer than in any other early humans species such as Homo rudolfensis, Homo habilis and Homo erectus.
- Average height 1.5 m, weight 45 kg.
- Skull: Primitive, similar to Homo habilis. Between 466 and 560 cc, in comparison to H. habilis 510 to 700 cc, H. erectus 550 to 1100 cc, H. floresiensis 426 cc.
- Dentition: Many teeth representing many ages from young to old individuals. They look primitive in the increasing size towards the back of the tooth row, but they look modern in their small size and they are simplified, set in lightly built jawbones.
- Post cranial: The wrist, hands, legs and feet are similar to those in neandertals and modern humans. The hands have curved fingerbones, suggestive of climbing behavior. The legs were made for long distance walking. The feet reflect effective walking. The body has similarities to the Dmanisi’s Homo erectus.
About the place
- Only hominids reached the Dinaledi Chamber. The quality of the fossil preservation is extraordinary. They show no cut marks nor breakage. No animals broke the bones.
- There is no archeological evidence showing that the hominids lived in the chamber. There is no sign of habitation. This chamber was never opened to the outside world. The route to the chamber was never any easy, not other animals could have reached it.
- The fossils were not moved by water. There is no signs of a catastrophe nor scavenges.
- Conclusion: the bodies were disposed there by purpose. This species could have some capacity to do some kind of burials or rituals. This shows a similar scenario to that proposed for the Sima de los Huesos (Atapuerca, Spain, 430 Ka.). But the Sima hominins have c. 1000 cc brain capacity, while Homo naledi was a tiny-brained hominin, a creature we would never have suspected of complex thought.
- The dating is not yet known. The discoverers think that it could be more than 2 Ma. old, therefore in the roots of the Homo genus.
- The location. For the moment Homo naledi is currently only known from this one site, the Dinaledi Chamber. Was it restricted to southern Africa?
- How did the hominids get to the chamber? Did the cave have another entrance in the past? Could they use fire?