The new hominin species was announced on Thursday by an international team of more than 60 scientists led by Lee R. Berger, an American paleoanthropologist who is a professor of human evolution studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. The species name, H. naledi, refers to the cave where the bones lay undisturbed for so long; “naledi” means “star” in the local Sesotho language.Here is the link to the first paper, Homo naledi, a new species of the genus Homo from the Dinaledi Chamber, South Africa, and here is the link to the taphonomic paper, Geological and taphonomic context for the new hominin species Homo naledi from the Dinaledi Chamber, South Africa. Here is the picture from the main paper, as well as the abstract:
In two papers published this week in the open-access journal eLife, the researchers said that the more than 1,550 fossil elements documenting the discovery constituted the largest sample for any hominin species in a single African site, and one of the largest anywhere in the world. Further, the scientists said, that sample is probably a small fraction of the fossils yet to be recovered from the chamber. So far the team has recovered parts of at least 15 individuals.
“With almost every bone in the body represented multiple times, Homo naledi is already practically the best-known fossil member of our lineage,” Dr. Berger said.
Homo naledi is a previously-unknown species of extinct hominin discovered within the Dinaledi Chamber of the Rising Star cave system, Cradle of Humankind, South Africa. This species is characterized by body mass and stature similar to small-bodied human populations but a small endocranial volume similar to australopiths. Cranial morphology of H. naledi is unique, but most similar to early Homo species including Homo erectus, Homo habilis or Homo rudolfensis. While primitive, the dentition is generally small and simple in occlusal morphology. H. naledi has humanlike manipulatory adaptations of the hand and wrist. It also exhibits a humanlike foot and lower limb. These humanlike aspects are contrasted in the postcrania with a more primitive or australopith-like trunk, shoulder, pelvis and proximal femur. Representing at least 15 individuals with most skeletal elements repeated multiple times, this is the largest assemblage of a single species of hominins yet discovered in Africa.
What does this mean? Well, the principle problem is that we still have no date for these remains, so it is difficult to place them chronologically. Berger is standing by his contention that early Homo arose from something like Au sediba, despite evidence to the contrary recently uncovered in Northeast Africa. If the date is late, somewhere on the order of one million years, then a migration model might explain the appearance of such an advanced hominin in this area. If it turns out to be much older, then other models might have to be entertained. More thoughts on this find later.