Professor Lee Berger Reveals Discovery Of New Human Ancestor
We live in a world where explorers have mounted flags atop the highest peaks and sunk to the ocean's lowest depths. A time where satellite imagery can offer interactive global maps that fit in the palms of our hands. Perhaps it's no surprise that with everything humankind has been shown of our wondrous Earth, it can be easy to forget that there are still secrets on this planet yet uncovered.
Scientists in South Africa believe they have just discovered one such secret.
Say hello to Homo naledi, humans' long-lost ancestor we never knew existed.
According to the New York Times, H. naledi was declared a newly discovered species of "early human lineage" by professor and paleoanthropologist Lee Berger. Based on a lead from two local cavers, the Sept. 10 reveal explains how Berger and a team of over 60 fellow scientists recovered remains from a cave in the Cradle of Human Kind World Heritage Site in South Africa.
Rick Hunter and Steven Tucker were spelunking in the Rising Star Cave roughly two years ago when they came across a chamber with a remarkably narrow entryway, and a staggering number of bones. The New York Times states that their discovery, along with some photographs of the chamber, was all Berger needed to begin the exploration of the cave.
According to Berger in the video below, what he and his team uncovered were over 1,550 fossils. Not just any fossils, however, Berger describes these particular remains as "the most significant and extensive discovery of early human relatives ... ever made on the continent of Africa."
The uncovered fossils are from 15 individual skeletons of varying ages, Berger says. In the video, he makes note of a few differences between Homo sapiens and H. naledis, stating that our newly discovered ancestors had "human-like arms, but an ape-like thorax and chest," for example.
Though the H. naledis and H. sapiens clearly have unique attributes, one similarity in particular is adding serious significance to this discovery. The deliberate disposal of the dead.
John Hawks, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, and one of the main authors of the two papers published on the H. naledi discovery, is amazed by the seemingly ritualistic burial of their deceased. According to a report from the University of Wisconsin, Hawks declares that, “We think it is the first instance of deliberate and ritualized interment.” Adding that, “The only plausible scenario is they deliberately put bodies in this place.”
The act of burying the dead, Berger explains, was considered to be "unique to humans, and in fact, maybe identified us." In light of the H. naledi discovery, however, he admits simply, "Now it doesn't."
The H. naledi discovery is not just remarkable for the secrets it unlocks about our past, it's also a refreshing reminder that though we may be living in the Information Age, it doesn't mean humans yet know all there is to know.
§ Barcroft TV via YouTube, New York Times, maropeng.co.za, nationalgeographic.com, news.wisc.edu, and elifesciences.org