South African scientists have discovered that a hominid discovered in 2013 lived at the same time as the first humans hundreds of thousands of years ago, the first such discovery.
South African scientists have discovered that a hominid discovered in 2013 lived at the same time as the first humans hundreds of thousands of years ago, the first such discovery. The results were published in the eLife scientific journal and are already considered one of the great fossil discoveries of the last half-century.
Researchers Paul Dirks and Eric Roberts of James Cook University dated the homo naledi between 236,000 and 335,000 years ago using fossils found in a cave system.
The investigation got the remains of at least 18 homo naledi. The latest set of collected bones, found in the chamber of a cave, has an almost complete adult skull.
“When we first identified the fossils, most paleoanthropologists in the investigation were convinced that they were one or two million years old, but they are much more recent. This means that a primitive hominid persisted in Africa for a very long period of time, far beyond what was thought possible, “Dirks said.
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“Homo naledi” measured about 150 cm and weighed about 45 kg. It is the first time that a member away from the human evolutionary tree is identified in a period when the first “homo sapiens” crossed the African continent.
Paul Dirks considered that the structure of the hands of the “homo naledi” may indicate that he manufactured tools, since in the period in which he lived there were already tools in Africa.
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Eric Roberts pointed out the difficulty of exploring the caves where the fossils were found, located in the so-called Cradle of Humankind, a location near the city of Magaliesburg in the northeast of the country. With tight passages, it consists of two chambers, unknown for the time being why the “homo naledi” were there.
“There’s a big debate about whether it’s a funeral home or whether they’ve been stuck there. They may have been pursued by lions or even by other humans, they may not have been able to leave. This is a region of great storms and there are traces of meteorite impacts at that time. You can speculate what you want, but for now the original hypothesis remains that they were put there on purpose, “said John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin.
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The idea of “homo naledi” placing the dead in underground chambers of difficult access is common to the Neanderthals, of which there is evidence of funerary rituals in a deep cave in Spain known as Sima de los Huesos.
“The most exciting part of ‘homo naledi’ is that it’s about creatures with brains three times smaller than ours,” says Hawks, adding that “we’re not talking about a human.”
However, it seems to share a behavior that we recognize, a care for others that continues after they die, he points out.
“It daunts me to think that we may be witnessing the deeper roots of human cultural practices,” he concluded.