The fossilised bones of 15 members of a previously unknown branch of the human family tree have been discovered in a cave in South Africa. The discovery is being regarded as a breakthrough in the research of evolution.
About 1,500 fossils were found deep in a cave system outside Johannesburg. They were hidden in a chamber that was accessible only via several steep climbs and narrow rock crevasses.
The bones were first discovered in 2013 by Witwatersrand University scientists and volunteer cavers in the Cradle of Humankind site 50 km northwest of Johannesburg.
The new species of Human is named as ‘Homo naledi’. The name is given after the ‘Rising Star’ cave where the bones were found. Naledi means ‘star’ in Sesotho, a local South African language.
The hands, wrists and feet of the Homo naledi were similar to modern humans, but the brain size and upper body were much more like the earliest humans.
Homo naledi had a tiny brain, about the size of an average orange. It had a very slender body. Its hands suggest that it had tool-using capabilities.
Homo naledi stood approximately 1.5 metres (about 5 feet) tall and weighed about 45 kg.
Experts are uncertain how old the bones are, but say they were probably placed there after death. This discovery shines light on ancient human rituals.
Until this moment researchers thought the idea of ritualised behaviours directed towards the dead was actually unique to Homo sapiens. But the newly found species had the same capability and it is an extraordinary thing.