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Falling on one of the lowest branches of the human family tree, Homo Naledi represents the early diverse nature and build of the human lineage, with its distinct yet closely related physical features.
The discovery of Homo Naledi was retained by 1,550 specimens, belonging to 15 different individuals of the species, and concluding by their build and structure, they closely resembled humans. This fossil record has helped researchers comprehend the genus' evolutionary variation.
Present in the Natural History Museum, London, Homo Naledi fossils showcase the evolutionary tree of human existence on the planet. The fossils were located in South Africa, 24.85 mi (40 km) away from Johannesburg, in 2013, when cavers Rick Hunter and Steven Tucker found the Hominini remains in the Rising Star Cave. The discovery was reported to paleoanthropologists Pedro Boshoff and Lee Rogers Berger, who further created a team to visit the chambers and explore more remains. Homo Naledi was named after the place of its excavation, Rising Star Cave. 'Naledi' in Homo Naledi means 'star', in one of the official languages of South Africa, Sesotho.
The Homo Naledi remains date back to the middle Pleistocene age, falling around 335,000 to 236,000 years ago. The fossils were initially dated to over a million years ago. Still, their lower existence during the presence of other big-brained Hominins surprised researchers, as no other species had been known to have lived at such a recent date in South Africa. The remaining fossils helped researchers shed more light on Homo species' evolution, from a different perspective. The existence of such species, with such small brain sizes, among big-brained species, revised the human evolutionary notion that the survival of small-headed species was not possible amidst their bigger-brained relatives.
Although the exact species and genus were unclear, the Naledi skull unveiled various hypotheses about the found remains and concluded that the species branched off from the contemporary Homo species. The teeth found from Naledi fossils resembled one of the earliest known species called Homo habilis, but retained primate features as well, making them a separate species, yet belonging to a similar family tree. Comparing the skull size with other species, Naledi had a relatively smaller head. The closest resemblance to its head can be found with another Homo species, Homo erectus.
Homo Naledi fossils revealed around 737 anatomical elements from around 15 different individuals. The retrieved fossils exhibit an unconventional combination of features relating to both primates and modern humans. Limb bones appeared like those of Neanderthals and modern humans, while the curved fingers depicted chimp-like climbing abilities. Other than that, most of the features conveyed primitive characteristics. The Naledi skull was frequently a matter of conversation. Being termed as an early part of the human family tree, Homo Naledi comprised a distinctly smaller head, compared to other species surviving in the same era.
The average height of the Homo Naledi species was estimated to be 4 ft 9 in, with a weight of 88 lbs (39.9 kg). Male and female Naledi species relatively had a similar build, but the males were 20% larger than the female species. Juvenile species, on the other hand, projected an ape-like faster growth. The species are suggested to have used two limbs to walk upright when covering longer distances, while their forelimbs were used to climb heights. The jaw-built and tooth-growing pattern in Homo Naledi resembled the same in modern humans. The permanent eruption of the second molar occurred in later stages of life as the species led towards maturation, depicting its slower maturation period, just like modern humans.
The forelimb and hand fossil structure of H. Naledi suggest that the species may have been capable of creating stone tools and weapons, but there is no evidence of these creations.
Homo Naledi traits and behavior are currently unresolved considering the combination of human and ape-like features, but the built and fossil excavation have suggested a lot about the species and their traits. For example, dental wearing explores the eating habits of these species, which include small hard objects like dust and dirt, which could have been consumed through a diet of unwashed root vegetables. The possibility of these species eating large, harder objects also persists, but these were processed in gentle pieces through bites, before consumption.
The hand structure found in Homo Naledi is implied towards tool production. Though there were no tools found anywhere near the excavation sites, it is suggested that they contributed to the Early or Middle Stone Age industries. Further studies show dental diseases and defects in a few specimens, most likely to be the cause of seasonal stressors. In addition, the jaw was required to exert higher shearing force, to break through plant fibers and strong muscles. When talking about its survival against big-brained species, many claim that H. Naledi and other species lived peacefully. At the same time, other theories also refer to Naledi living in geographically isolated locations for survival.
Though there is no evidence depicting a relation or communication between these species, the excavation site suggested diverse theories on this. Homo Naledi fossils were found deep inside the Dinaledi Chamber. They exhibited no signs of trauma by being dropped or attacked by predators, following which, researchers claimed the site to be a deliberate burial space for the related species. It is believed that H. Naledi exhibited modern human behavior and deposited the remains of deceased species in the chamber. However, further research also claims the behavior was not simply for burial, but rather mummification of the species.
The theory depicting the cultural behavior of practicing burial among related species was further reaffirmed by Dirks, Berger, and colleagues in 2017. Burial in the chamber may have been conducted for various reasons, such as covering the erupting smell from the decaying corpse, preventing scavengers from preying on it, or as a sign of grief or respect for the dead. The concept of the afterlife being relevant to species then was refuted, due to the lack of evidence. Moreover, the site was constantly used for the burial of different age groups at different periods, further cementing the theory of the species practicing the social behavior of burial.
How long did Homo Naledi survive?
Homo Naledi is found to have lived around 300,000 to 200,000 years ago.
Where has Homo Naledi been found?
Homo Naledi was found in the paleoanthropological site known as the Cradle of Humankind in South Africa. The site has a system of caves called Rising Star Cave, where Homo Naledi fossils were found.
Where did Homo Naledi live?
Homo Naledi fossils were found in South Africa; therefore, it is believed that the species inhabited the same location and other parts of Southern Africa.
How did the bones get into the cave?
Researchers claimed it was nearly impossible for ancient humans to have lived in a cave as deep as the Rising Star Cave systems. The fossils being displaced and moved into the cave must have been a cause of natural phenomena, such as flash floods and storms. Another theory is favored by researchers, which claims that other related species disposed of the Hominin remains as a sign of honor for the dead.
What kind of tools did Homo Naledi make?
Homo Naledi hand structure suggests that the species could have easily created stone tools and weapons, but there were no signs of such tools found at the excavation site.
How did Homo Naledi survive against the bigger-brained competition?
Homo Naledi with a small brain size supposedly had a similar lifestyle and diet to their bigger-brained competition, so they may have lived in colonies and socialized, rather than competing with each other.
How did Homo. Naledi walk?
The primitive traits found through the Homo Naledi fossils speak of their human-like traits, as they supposedly walked upright like modern humans. The curved fingers suggested they also retained primate characteristics, such as climbing trees.
Who discovered Homo Naledi?
Lee Berger led the team to explore and discover the Homo Naledi fossils.
How did the discovery of Homo Naledi alter human evolution?
Homo Naledi helped bridge a great gap with their primitive features, implying themselves as one of the recent relic species from the evolutionary tree of the human species. Their social behavior, living circumstances, and small brain size closely resembled that of a human; hence, making it a great discovery for evolutionary studies.
How many fossils represent Homo Naledi?
About 133 fossils were found, that represent their presence.
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