Homo naledi, a new species of hominid

Homo naledia new species of hominid
The origins of the line Homo in South Africa ?

It was not just a small piece of skull or tibia that was found… but hundreds of bones belonging to about fifteen individuals. Homo naledi is also a “mixed” creature, exhibiting both primitive and modern traits.

The Rising Star Cave

Homo naledi face skull

The cave is located 30 kilometers from Johannesburg, South Africa, and has been known to locals for decades. Since the 1960s, the cave has been visited and appreciated by speleologists.
2 years ago, they explored a gallery that was difficult to access and very narrow: to progress there it was necessary to put one arm forward and the other along the body (hence the name ” Superman Crawl given to the gallery!). After several meters of crawling, they reached a larger room. Continuing their progression, they found a small gallery encumbered with stalagmites which fell abruptly to a new room 9 meters long. And it is in this last room, never explored, that they discovered hominid bones. Of course, they immediately contacted scientists, including paleoanthropologist Lee Berger.


1550 bones We were found on the floor of this last room, which is difficult to access because it is located after a free-falling gallery 12 meters high. The cavity contained nothing but human bones and sediment. No objects, tools or bones of other animals were present in this part of the cave.

The skeletons correspond to a fifteen individuals, ranging from babies to the elderly, through adolescents and adults. The bones are extremely well preserved, including the bones of the ear, which is extremely rare. Moreover, the number of remains found is a real boon for researchers who will thus be able to establish the average characteristics of the species, according to sex but also its type of growth.

The international team of researchers has begun to analyze this mass of bones and the first conclusions show that this new species has both primitive and modern characteristics.
The wrist, hand and foot are relatively close to us and therefore resemble those of modern humans. On the other hand, the small size of skull and hips correspond to those of one of the first representatives of the line Homo. The structure of shoulders indicates that its owner was also adapted to arboreal locomotion…
The bones are estimated, at most, at 2 million years back.
The mixture of characteristicsHomo naledi points once again to the complexity of the human family tree, but also responds to the need of researchers to understand the history and the first origins of our species.

The set of bones of several adult individuals makes it possible to almost completely reconstruct a skeleton… (John Hawks/Wits University)

Many implications

For researchers, the discovery ofHomo naledi will perhaps help to understand the transition between the australopithecines and the lineage Homo… This mixture of characters is perhaps one of the links that can complete the lack of fossils in our lineage.

Professor Chris Stringer (Natural History Museum, London) says the location of the discovery of the bones, the deepest room in the cave, suggests the bodies were intentionally deposited by other hominids, which is a very complex behavior for a primitive human species.

Reconstruction of the face of Homo naledi by the National Geographic Society.

The researchers indicate that there are different hypotheses to explain this pile of bodies at the bottom of the cave. Either the bodies were intentionally placed here, or visitors to the cave found themselves trapped by some unknown event. If the first hypothesis is true, this simply indicates that a species of hominid practiced funeral rites… 2 million years ago.

It should be noted that the researchers did not communicate any information on the dating methods used… it is even indicated in an article that the bodies could have been lying in the cave for 2 million years or 20,000 years… And in this case, the consequences would not be the same at all!

To be continued, therefore, with new studies and a more precise dating! The fossils having been discovered in 2013 one could have imagined that before publishing all this morphological study the team could have tried to date the sediments, the bones or the cave…
On the left reconstruction of the face ofHomo naledi by the National Geographic Society.

09/12/15 new reactions

For Chris Stringer For me the fossils seem similar to the small bodies of Homo erectus found in Dmanissi (Editor’s note Homo georgicus) dated – 1.8 million years“. ” The richness of fossils of H. naledi compared to other species like Homo rudolfensis, H.habilisWhere H. erectus is such that we cannot compare certain bones missing in these latter species but present in H. naledi…
If the fossils are 2 million years old, this species must be very close to the origins of the genus Homo. On the other hand, if they are less than 100,000 years old then they are rather survivors like the species Homo floresiensis he adds.

For the paleoanthropologist Bruno Maureille These fossils look much more like individuals of the genus Homo than of the Australopithecus type in terms of cranial morphology. If the date provided by Professor Lee Berger of 2.5 million years is correct, these fossils are among the oldest remains of the genus Homo. For the moment, there is no evidence that the individuals found date from this period. »

“This can become a very important discovery, but it is the geological age that we can attribute to these specimens that will tell”says the teacher Michael Brunet who does not understand why we publish the results of studies while forgetting the dating.

For yves coppens, the genus Homo should not be included… “The Homo in question is, of course, not a Homo, with the small head he has, but one more Australopithecus, just as there was many different species of pigs, elephants, antelopes, depending on climate variations and ecological niches. »


National Geographic
Elife Stringer

Also to read
2006 Discovery of Selam, a australopithecus afarensis in Ethiopia
2010 Traces of cuts on bones 3.4 million years ago postpone the use of the tool to Australopithecus
2014 The mosaic evolution of Australopithecus sediba
2015 Discovery of Homo naledi in South Africa
2015 Cutmarks indicate tools were in use 3.4 million years ago
2016 Australopithecines discovered in Kenya east of the Rift
2022 Did Homo naledi control fire?

Homo naledi, a new species of hominid – Hominids