What you need to know about Homo Naledi

The remains of new human species, Homo Naledi or H. Naledi, were recently discovered in a cave in South Africa. The announcement of the discovery was made by an international team of 60 scientists led by an American, Lee.R. Berger, September 10. Berger initially discovered Hominin fossils around the Rising Star Cave in 2008 before engaging cavers and a team of scientists in his quest. The discovery has been described as another milestone in human evolution research. Here’s what you need to know about the discovery.

Homo Naledi was discovered in South Africa’s Rising Star Cave

The Rising Cave in South Africa is home to fossils of human species from many centuries, also described as the Cradle of Humankind. It is located 30 miles Northwest of Johannesburg and was one of the popular go-t0 areas for cavers in the 1960’s. The species is named after the cave ‘Naledi’ which means ‘star’ in Sesotho language; the scientists believe a group of H. Naledi may have wandered into the cave and got trapped. But evidence show that they could have been there for centuries. The researchers claim that 1,550 fossil elements were recovered making it the largest fossil sample for hominin species in Africa and anywhere in the world. Researchers also believe that these fossils make up parts of 15 individuals.

Homo Naledi is just like modern humans.

Although Homo Naledi’s ape-like features might appear primitive, they are said to look like humans of today. Their feet, facial structure, limbs and hands reveal body parts the newly discovered species shares with us humans. Their toes are slightly curved but have arches that show they’ve been on long-distance walks. Also, the species have long and slender leg bones, while the palms and wrists  are very human like. Naledi’s skull is like that of a modern human but with a smaller braincase.

Berger and his team believe that while they share resemblance with Homo species such as Homo erectus, they have enough distinct features to be classified separately.

The initial discovery was made two years ago

Two cavers, Steven Tucker and Rick Hunter embarked on a mission into  the Rising Star when they discovered H. Naledi. The cavers had prior knowledge of an American scientist, Lee Berger’s search for human fossils in South Africa, and after finding their way through narrow constrictions in the cave they stumbled into what might be the discovery of the century. Lee Berger later said that Tucker and Hunter might be experienced cavers, but lacked the expertise to excavate the fossils from the cave. Lee Berger had spent about 20 years trying to prove there was more to the origin of human evolution than Homo Habilis and other Homo species.

Six female ‘underground astronauts’ helped to get the fossils out of the cave.

Lee Berger, a professor of human evolution at a university in Johannesburg , had difficulties accessing the cave because of the narrow constrictions . He put up an opening on Facebook stating that he needed “skinny individuals, with scientific credentials and caving experience”. He chose six women out of 60 applicants- which he called his “underground astronauts”.

Scientists believe that Homo Naledi is a major addition to early human lineage discoveries, however, there are of course always fascinating discoveries for the future.

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