Study: Bones in South African cave reveal new human relative

September 10, 2015 byLynsey Chutel And Malcolm Ritter
This March 2015 photo provided by National Geographic from their October 2015 issue shows a reconstruction of Homo naledi's face by paleoartist John Gurche at his studio in Trumansburg, N.Y. In an announcement made Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, scientists say fossils found deep in a South African cave revealed the new member of the human family tree. (Mark Thiessen/National Geographic via AP)

Scientists say they've discovered a new member of the human family tree, revealed by a huge trove of bones in a barely accessible, pitch-dark chamber of a cave in South Africa.

The creature shows a surprising mix of human-like and more primitive characteristics—some experts called it "bizarre" and "weird."

And the discovery presents some key mysteries: How old are the bones? And how did they get into that chamber, reachable only by a complicated pathway that includes squeezing through passages as narrow as about 7½ inches (17.8 centimeters)?

The bones were found by a spelunker, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) northwest of Johannesburg. The site has yielded some 1,550 specimens since its discovery in 2013. The fossils represent at least 15 individuals.

Researchers named the creature Homo naledi (nah-LEH-dee). That reflects the "Homo" evolutionary group, which includes modern people and our closest extinct relatives, and the word for "star" in a local language. The find was made in the Rising Star cave system.

The creature, which evidently walked upright, represents a mix of traits. For example, the hands and feet look like Homo, but the shoulders and the small brain recall Homo's more ape-like ancestors, the researchers said.

Lee Berger, a professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg who led the work, said naledi's anatomy suggest that it arose at or near the root of the Homo group, which would make the species some 2.5 million to 2.8 million years old. The discovered bones themselves may be younger, said Berger, an American.

Study: Bones in South African cave reveal new human relative
South Africa Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, kisses a reconstruction of Homo naledi's face during the announcement made at Maropeng Cradle of Humankind in Magaliesburg, South Africa, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015. Scientists say they've discovered a new member of the human family tree, revealed by a huge trove of bones in a barely accessible, pitch-dark chamber of a cave in South Africa. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

At a news conference Thursday in the Cradle of Humankind, a site near the town of Magaliesburg where the discovery was made, bones were arranged in the shape of skeleton in a glass-covered wooden case. Fragments of small skulls, an almost complete jawbone with teeth, and pieces of limbs, fingers and other bones were arrayed around the partial skeleton.

Berger handed a skull reconstruction to Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who kissed it, as did other VIPs. Berger beamed throughout the unveiling.

Skeletal fossils of Homo naledi are pictured in the Wits bone vault at the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, on Sept. 13, 2014. The fossils are among nearly 1,700 bones and teeth retrieved from a nearly inaccessible cave near Johannesburg. The fossil trove was created, scientists believe, by Homo naledi repeatedly secreting the bodies of their dead companions in the cave. Analysis of the fossils -- part of a project known as the Rising Star Expedition -- was led in part by paleoanthropologist John Hawks, professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Credit: John Hawks/University of Wisconsin-Madison

The researchers also announced the discovery in the journal eLife. They said they were unable to determine an age for the fossils because of unusual characteristics of the site, but that they are still trying.

Berger said researchers are not claiming that neledi was a direct ancestor of modern-day people, and experts unconnected to the project said they believed it was not.

Study: Bones in South African cave reveal new human relative
Professor Adam Habib, holds a reconstruction of Homo naledi presented during the announcement made in Magaliesburg, South Africa, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015. Scientists say they've discovered a new member of the human family tree, revealed by a huge trove of bones in a barely accessible, pitch-dark chamber of a cave in South Africa, showing a surprising mix of human-like and more primitive characteristics. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

Rick Potts, director of the human origins program at the Smithsonian Institution's Natural History Museum, who was not involved in the discovery, said that without an age, "there's no way we can judge the evolutionary significance of this find."

If the bones are about as old as the Homo group, that would argue that naledi is "a snapshot of ... the evolutionary experimentation that was going on right around the origin" of Homo, he said. If they are significantly younger, it either shows the naledi retained the primitive body characteristics much longer than any other known creature, or that it re-evolved them, he said.

Skeletal fossils of the hand of Homo naledi pictured in the Wits bone vault at the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, on Sept. 13, 2014. The fossil hand is one of many fossils representing a new species of hominin. The broad thumb of Homo naledi suggests it was an expert climber. The Rising Star Expedition, a project that retrieved and analyzed the fossils was led in part by paleoanthropologist John Hawks, professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Credit: John Hawks/University of Wisconsin-Madison

Eric Delson of Lehman College in New York, who also wasn't involved with the work, said his guess is that naledi fits within a known group of early Homo creatures from around 2 million year ago.

Study: Bones in South African cave reveal new human relative
This photo provided by National Geographic from their October 2015 issue shows a composite skeleton of Homo naledi surrounded by some of the hundreds of other fossil elements recovered from the Rising Star cave in South Africa, photographed at the Evolutionary Studies Institute of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. In an announcement made Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, scientists say the fossils revealed the new member of the human family tree. The expedition team was led by Lee Berger of the university. (Robert Clark/National Geographic, Lee Berger/University of the Witwatersrand via AP)

Besides the age of the bones, another mystery is how they got into the difficult-to-reach area of the cave. The researchers said they suspect the naledi may have repeatedly deposited their dead in the room, but alternatively it may have been a death trap for individuals that found their own way in.

"This stuff is like a Sherlock Holmes mystery," declared Bernard Wood of George Washington University in Washington, D.C., who was not involved in the study. Visitors to the cave must have created artificial light, as with a torch, Wood said. The people who did cave drawings in Europe had such technology, but nobody has suspected that mental ability in creatures with such a small brain as naledi, he said.

These are bone fragments of Homo neladi, a new species of hominin recently discovered in South Africa by a team of scientists including Anthropologist Charles Musiba of the University of Colorado Denver. Credit: Charles Musiba

Potts said a deliberate disposal of dead bodies is a feasible explanation, but he added it's not clear who did the disposing. Maybe it was some human relative other than naledi, he said.

Not everybody agreed that the discovery revealed a new species. Tim White of the University of California, Berkeley, called that claim questionable. "From what is presented here, (the fossils) belong to a primitive Homo erectus, a species named in the 1800s," he said in an email.

At the news conference in South Africa, Berger disputed that.

"Could this be the body of ? Absolutely not. It could not be erectus," Berger said.

A reconstruction of Homo naledi presented during the announcement made in Magaliesburg, South Africa, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015. Scientists say they've discovered a new member of the human family tree, revealed by a huge trove of bones in a barely accessible, pitch-dark chamber of a cave in South Africa, showing a surprising mix of human-like and more primitive characteristics. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

Q&A: South African fossils said to reveal new human relative

Researchers said Thursday that they had discovered a previously unknown relative of humans, revealed by bones found deep in a South African cave. Here's a quick look at the discovery:

WHAT DID THEY FIND?

They recovered some 1,550 fossils, from the skeletons of at least 15 individuals. The cave is about 30 miles northwest of Johannesburg.

HOW OLD ARE THE BONES?

Nobody knows. The researchers said they've been unable to get a date, but that they will keep trying.

WHAT IS THIS CREATURE?

Based on details of the bones, the scientists say in the journal eLife that it's new to science but a member of the evolutionary group called Homo, which includes modern people and our closest extinct relatives. The anatomy combines traits found in other Homo species with more primitive ones. The researchers conclude it's an early member of Homo, but they don't claim it's a direct ancestor of modern people. Experts said they don't believe it is.

Lee Berger, a professor at the University of the Witwatersrand, right, presents to South Africa Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, right, the of the hundreds of other fossil elements recovered from a cave during the announcement at Maropeng Cradle of Humankind in Magaliesburg, South Africa Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015. Scientists say they've discovered a new member of the human family tree, revealed by a huge trove of bones in a barely accessible, pitch-dark chamber of a cave in South Africa. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

WHAT DO THEY CALL IT?

Homo naledi (nah-LEH-dee). The second name, which means "star" in a local language, was chosen because the bones were found in the Rising Star cave system.

HOW DID THE BONES GET INTO THE CAVE?

That's a mystery. They were found in a room that can be reached only by following a complicated pathway and squeezing through narrow passages. There's no sign that naledi lived there. The bones evidently were not dragged in by predators. Maybe the room was used to dispose of bodies, the researchers suggest.

Explore further: Oldest human-like hand bone may help us understand the evolution of tool making

More information: eLife: elifesciences.org/

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Terratian
4.4 / 5 (14) Sep 10, 2015
The age of this fossil will be very revealing.

If it is from around 2.5 million years ago, it could be a transitional hominid between Australopithecus and Homo.
verkle
Sep 10, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Terratian
4.8 / 5 (21) Sep 10, 2015
the small brain recall Homo's more ape-like ancestors....


No, I have no such ancestors. I believe only small-brained people think they do.



Oh look, it's a troll.

Brain size is not always directly correlated with intelligence. This can be seen in some animals, and some humans are eager to show the opposite.
Whydening Gyre
4.4 / 5 (19) Sep 10, 2015
the small brain recall Homo's more ape-like ancestors....


No, I have no such ancestors. I believe only small-brained people think they do.


Refusing to see evolving progressions is a sign of a small brain...
(and large ego..)
Whydening Gyre
4.6 / 5 (17) Sep 10, 2015
Refusing to see evolving progressions is a sign of a small brain...
(and large ego..)

I meant to say small mind...
Which often happens with mediocre sized brains...
baudrunner
1.3 / 5 (14) Sep 10, 2015
Those bones are not ancient artifacts, from the look of them - certainly not from millions of years ago.
verkle
Sep 10, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (16) Sep 10, 2015
Poor little Verkle.
Can dish out insults, but can't take 'em...
winthrom
3 / 5 (3) Sep 10, 2015
Let me guess. (1) Jonestown Guinea, circa 1.8M BC. (2) Went to hide from a different species of Homo, and could not escape. (3) Was not inaccessible from surface 1.8 M years ago. (4) Migrating tribe got lost in cave, starved to death, (5) ...
Whydening Gyre
4.6 / 5 (5) Sep 10, 2015
Let me guess. (1) Jonestown Guinea, circa 1.8M BC. (2) Went to hide from a different species of Homo, and could not escape. (3) Was not inaccessible from surface 1.8 M years ago. (4) Migrating tribe got lost in cave, starved to death, (5) ...

Hunh?!?
Doesn't sound likely...
viko_mx
Sep 11, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
ThomasQuinn
4.4 / 5 (14) Sep 11, 2015
viko_mx:

LOL! Fascism, racism AND humanism. You say evolution has "no scientific basis", and then go spew religious nonsense out of your blowhole. Talk about dramatic irony!

And to think you consider a book of poorly translated folk tales science...
viko_mx
1 / 5 (12) Sep 11, 2015
I did not understand from your comment do you have scientific arguments. Only found out about your emotional state.
viko_mx
1 / 5 (15) Sep 11, 2015
Humanism tolerate rebellion against God's order practices such as abortion and euthanasia which is murder, homosexuality, surrogate motherhood. Its main idea is that people do not need God to exist. As a result its apologists impose human laws in society and deny God's laws. God's laws are ten. Human thousands and yet can not lead to peace, justice and prosperity. They feed only the they the lawyers. God is much smarter than man and only He knows what is best for people. A humanists are just vain people suffering from narcissism and professing a luciferian doctrine.
Earthman
4.4 / 5 (14) Sep 11, 2015
Humanism tolerate rebellion against God's order practices such as abortion and euthanasia which is murder, homosexuality, surrogate motherhood. Its main idea is that people do not need God to exist. As a result its apologists impose human laws in society and deny God's laws. God's laws are ten. Human thousands and yet can not lead to peace, justice and prosperity. They feed only the they the lawyers. God is much smarter than man and only He knows what is best for people. A humanists are just vain people suffering from narcissism and professing a luciferian doctrine.


Your silly delusions are irrelevant. Believe whatever you like, it will not affect reality.

It would be nice if you could keep that nonsense to yourself. There's enough pollution on this site as it is.
Captain Stumpy
4.7 / 5 (13) Sep 11, 2015
I did not understand from your comment do you have scientific arguments. Only found out about your emotional state.
@viko
if YOU do not produce science arguments, then there is no reason to refute with science as you are simply promoting conjecture (and in this case, religious fanaticism), so your posts can be dismissed as trolling BS, not valid argument
i agree with Earthman
Your silly delusions are irrelevant. Believe whatever you like, it will not affect reality.

It would be nice if you could keep that nonsense to yourself. There's enough pollution on this site as it is.
you have produced exactly ZERO scientific or credible evidence supporting any claim you made on this thread (or site, really)

religion, by definition, causes friction, strife and prejudice, and is used to control others...therefore, it stands to reason that religion is the reason for war, conflict, etc... and historically, this is absolutely true
you got it backwards
antigoracle
4.6 / 5 (9) Sep 11, 2015
the small brain recall Homo's more ape-like ancestors....


No, I have no such ancestors. I believe only small-brained people think they do.


Hey verkle, is it possible they went there seeking religion? They certainly had the brain size for it.
viko_mx
1 / 5 (10) Sep 11, 2015
@ Earthman, Stumpy and Co

Can you suggest something more constructive than fanatical denial of notorious and obvious truths?
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (10) Sep 11, 2015
@ Earthman, Stumpy and Co

Can you suggest something more constructive than fanatical denial of notorious and obvious truths?

PROVE that they are "notorious and obvious truths", first.
using scientific methodology and terminology...
viko_mx
1 / 5 (10) Sep 11, 2015
I did this many times. But it makes sense when in front of me stand reasonable and honest people. Not fanatical voluntary blind men. I personally can not see any sense a man to close eyes for the truth.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (9) Sep 11, 2015
It is a conundrum. Their mosaic traits - Australopiths and Homo - reminds of the recent find of the 3 Myrs Ledi jaw. [ http://arstechnic...sapiens/ ] That would be especially nice, since it is a period of few fossils (but now tools and symbolic scratches, see the link).

Also the papers claims half the usual variation in large groups, so it is could be a clan with a rite - but no breaks showing they threw the bodies into the crevice - or a single accident - but why retreat into an hole with no means of regress.

Any which way, the find is astounding and will hopefully have a use. The dating is iffy - no light et cetera means few methods left - but not impossible. Same with any DNA sequencing attempts - old bones, hot and humid environment - but the attempt should be made.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
4.9 / 5 (13) Sep 11, 2015
@viko: Your 'truth' is a myth so apriori unlikely to be fact (i.e. philosophic "truth"), and now known to not be so. (Whether you mean historical fact, archaeological fact or physics/geology/biology facts.) And you certainly do not bring _any_ reference that would support your buffoon and lazy claims. Cf the science presented here, it is based on arduous observation, peer criticism and hard work.

You may have better luck with your in group. No one else is likely interested in what is known to be baloney, or your cheap attempt to undermine centuries of hard work which - as opposed to mediocre, childish magic myths - are useful for humanity.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (8) Sep 11, 2015
@viko: Your 'truth' is a myth so apriori unlikely to be fact (i.e. philosophic "truth"), and now known to not be so. (Whether you mean historical fact, archaeological fact or physics/geology/biology facts.) And you certainly do not bring _any_ reference that would support your buffoon and lazy claims. Cf the science presented here, it is based on arduous observation, peer criticism and hard work.

You may have better luck with your in group. No one else is likely interested in what is known to be baloney, or your cheap attempt to undermine centuries of hard work which - as opposed to mediocre, childish magic myths - are useful for humanity.

Amen, TL, Amen...:-)
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (11) Sep 11, 2015
I did this many times. But it makes sense when in front of me stand reasonable and honest people. Not fanatical voluntary blind men. I personally can not see any sense a man to close eyes for the truth.

I feel compelled to argue your statement. You have NOT proven it by the criteria I set forth. You have only decried observations and lambasted those making them for not just trusting what has been written (and re-written) over many generations of those not trained in the very fine and critical art of objective observation.
As to the truth, you can only know your own, not that of others not sharing your belief system. Primarily because you refuse to accept their measurements, observations and interpretations as having any validity, whatsoever.
You are of the belief that showing your faith in a "den of lions" is noble and worthy of eternal salvation. You couldn't be more wrong.
There is no wrong in choosing to disbelieve that which has no empirical merit...
(cont'd)
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (12) Sep 11, 2015
Believe it or not, even disbelievers can see and value the beauty of our Universe WITHOUT the benefit of a creator...

may whatshisname smite me if I'm wrong...:-)
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (12) Sep 11, 2015
Hmmmm....
Still here....

Unsmitten.

And now - back to the regularly scheduled topic of the article, if you please...
antigoracle
4.2 / 5 (10) Sep 11, 2015
God's laws are ten. Human thousands and yet can not lead to peace, justice and prosperity. They feed only the they the lawyers.

Hmm... wonder why your Pope needed to feed one of these lawyers.
http://www.huffin...835.html
Oh yeah, sexual abuse of children. Guess you haven't heard of it, since it's not listed in your God's ten, but guess what, it's in ours.
victoryengineer
4.5 / 5 (17) Sep 11, 2015
I'm very new to posting at this site but I've been reading articles and posts here for some time. Great source of food for the brain here and I enjoy it very much.

However, I cannot fathom why the moderators have not banned viko long ago. He is little more than a distraction into absurdity. This is a science site where he clearly has no intention of learning anything but rather spews his nonsense. Viko, you are at the wrong site. You are not wanted here and your comments are not appreciated. I sincerely ask you to leave. Moderators, please ban viko or remove his account all together.
viko_mx
1 / 5 (11) Sep 12, 2015
It seems that you are not very resourceful and new is only your new nickname. This usually occurs when negative emotions prevail over reason and goodness. You say you are new in the forum but you know what is supposed to be done by moderators long time ago? Only because I have a different view point and expose some delusions in modern society? Somewhere you saw in nature uniformity? Are you fortune teller? Or humanist (communist)? I do not call for violence in any form, unlike you. You are strange phenomenon. Comes with a new nick and start advocating and distribute justice. Who authorizes you to be the spokesman for the other participants in the forum?
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (11) Sep 12, 2015
However, I cannot fathom why the moderators have not banned viko long ago
@victoryengineer
for the same reason that people like JVK, cantdrive, hannes_alfven, rc, denglish, alchie/waterprofit and the rest of the pseudoscience trolls (who repeatedly directly violate the site posting rules, etc) haven't been banned: it pads the count...site popularity ...ratings, etc …

Perceived popularity.

.

I do not call for violence in any form, unlike you.
@vikoTROLL
he isn't calling for violence. he is asking the MODS to actually moderate the site per their own rules!
Who authorizes you to be the spokesman for the other participants in the forum?
who authorized you to proselytize your religious dogma here on this SCIENCE site?

NOT YOUR OWN BIBLE OR DEITY, that is for sure: JER 31:27-37

until you can actually abide by your own commandments, you should be elsewhere
malapropism
5 / 5 (9) Sep 12, 2015
However, I cannot fathom why the moderators have not banned viko long ago.... Moderators, please ban viko or remove his account all together.

@victoryengineer
for the same reason that people like JVK, cantdrive, hannes_alfven, rc, denglish, alchie/waterprofit and the rest of the pseudoscience trolls (who repeatedly directly violate the site posting rules, etc) haven't been banned: it pads the count...site popularity ...ratings, etc …
Perceived popularity

To be fair, it's more likely because these trolls can pretty easily just create another account to continue posting their dogma with so there's little point in banning or removing their current logins. Anyway, occasionally troll-baiting can be a fun and amusing pastime when it's a slow news day.
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (8) Sep 13, 2015
To be fair, it's more likely because these trolls can pretty easily just create another account to continue
@Mal
yes... and no...

there are ways to block those type people... just ask MODS from other sites that are heavily moderated and don't allow the zephir's and rc's and trolls to continue... like Sapo's Joint or SciForums

like i said... it is more about the perception of interest (padded counts) IMHO
Anyway, occasionally troll-baiting can be a fun and amusing pastime when it's a slow news day
sometimes... yeah
I see your point here!
AGreatWhopper
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 06, 2015
the small brain recall Homo's more ape-like ancestors....


No, I have no such ancestors. I believe only small-brained people think they do.



You've got to be joking, you goddamned mother fucking xtian. When we speak of a species' intelligence we mean the average and the functional average for that species was WAY beyond anything you've ever demonstrated here.

That really resolves it. I am going to have to beat the living shit out of the next creationist I come across.
AGreatWhopper
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 06, 2015
However, I cannot fathom why the moderators have not banned viko long ago. He is little more than a distraction into absurdity. This is a science site where he clearly has no intention of learning anything but rather spews his nonsense.


The site gets funds from The Heritage Foundation and the Koch Foundation, among others, to not delete right wing trolls. That's for their AGW stance, but a side effect is that they also spew creationism and Tesla worship and such as well. In the past they followed their own rules, but the corporation was bought out by two guys that moved it offshore, stopped filing Companies House annual reports and have generally pimped it out.

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