Fossils From New Human Relative Species Found in South Africa

The skeleton of Homo naledi is pictured in the Wits bone vault at the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.

The skeleton of Homo naledi is pictured in the Wits bone vault at the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.

Photographer: John Hawks/University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Species known as Homo naledi measured 1.5 meters on average
  • Discovery announced by group of international scientists

An international team of scientists announced the discovery of fossils from a previously unknown human relative species in a cave northwest of Johannesburg that sheds new light on the origins of humankind.

Known as Homo naledi, the new species measured about 1.5 meters (five feet) tall on average, weighed about 45 kilograms (99 pounds), and had hands that suggested it had tool-using and climbing capabilities, according to the scientists. While its skull and teeth were similar to the earliest-known members of the Homo genus, its shoulders were more similar to those of apes.

Homo naledi skull.
Homo naledi skull.
Photographer: Brett Eloff/Wits University

The find was announced by the University of the Witwatersrand, the National Geographic Society and South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology and National Research Foundation and details were published in the scientific journal eLife and National Geographic magazine.

“Homo naledi appears to have intentionally deposited bodies of its dead in a remote cave chamber, a behavior previously thought limited to humans,” the researchers said. “So far, the team has recovered parts of at least 15 individuals of the same species, a small fraction of the fossils believed to remain in the chamber.”

The fossils, which consist of infants, children, adults and elderly individuals, have yet to be dated.

“With almost every bone in the body represented multiple times, Homo naledi is already practically the best-known fossil member of our lineage,” said Lee Berger, research professor at the University of the Witwatersrand’s Evolutionary Studies Institute, who led the two expeditions that discovered and recovered the fossils.

MAP: Cradle of Humankind
MAP: Cradle of Humankind
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