Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 11th 2017 Contents life B29
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A species belonging to the human family tree
whose remnants were first discovered in a South
African cave in 2013 lived several hundred thou-
sand years ago, indicating that the creature was
alive at the same time as early humans in Africa,
scientists said Tuesday.
A meticulous dating process showed that Homo
naledi, which had a mix of human-like and more
primitive characteristics such as a small brain, ex-
isted in a surprisingly recent period in paleontological
terms, said Lee Berger of Wits University in Johan-
nesburg. Berger led the team of researchers, which
Scientists reveal more
on human-like species
A replica skull of a species belonging to the human family tree whose remnants
were first discovered in a South African cave in 2013 is held at the unveiling at the
Maropeng Museum, near Magaliesburg, South Africa on Tuesday.
also announced that it had found a second cave with
more fossils of the Homo naledi species, including
a relatively well-preserved skull of an adult male.
The conclusion that Homo naledi was living be-
tween 236,000 and 335,000 years ago---and had not
become extinct much earlier---shows that the human
"Homo" family tree was more diverse than previously
thought at that point in the evolution of our species,
Homo sapiens, said John Hawks of the University of
Wisconsin-Madison and Wits University.
The next step in research is to "sort the relationship
of these different species to each other and also their
role in our process of becoming human," Hawks said
during an announcement of the discoveries at the
Cradle of Humankind, a site near the South African
town of Magaliesburg where the fossils were found.
The research was also published in the journal eLife.
The name of Homo naledi refers to the "Homo"
evolutionary group, which includes modern people
and our closest extinct relatives, and the word for
"star" in the local Sotho language. The fossils were
found in the Rising Star cave system, which includes
more than 2 kilometres (1.25 miles) of underground,
mapped passageways. The second chamber containing
the more recent fossil discoveries is more than 100
meters from the cave where the original discoveries
were made, and publicly announced in 2015.
Some experts who were not involved in the research
also marveled at the age of the fossils, determined by
dating Homo naledi teeth and cave sediments.
"This is astonishingly young for a species that still
displays primitive characteristics found in fossils
about two million years old, such as the small brain
size, curved fingers, and form of the shoulder, trunk
and hip joint. Yet the wrist, hands, legs and feet look
more like those of Neanderthals and modern humans,
and the teeth are relatively small and simple, and set
in lightly built jawbones," Chris Stringer of the Natural
History Museum in London wrote in an email to The
Stringer said there were parallels with the late sur-
vival of the species Homo floresiensis---also known
as the "hobbit"---in apparent isolation on an island
in what is today Indonesia, and raised a key question:
"How did a comparably strange and small-brained
species linger on in southern Africa, seemingly along-
side more 'advanced' humans?"
Richard Potts of the Smithsonian Institution's Na-
tional Museum of Natural History in Washington said
it was likely that Homo naledi evolved and persisted
in isolation from other species of Homo.
"'Island habitats'" can occur on continents, too, in
small environmental refuges that are sustained long
term," Potts said.
"Yes, on continents it's typically lizards, butter-
flies, fish, and small mammals that are susceptible
to separation and isolated evolution, and the effects
of that isolation can arise rapidly. To me, naledi and
floresiensis are nature's experiments of isolated evo-
lution in two of our evolutionary cousins."
Berger, the research team leader, said the discovery
of a second chamber with Homo naledi remains gives
more credence to the idea that the species deliber-
ately disposed of its dead in pitch-black caves that
are extremely difficult to reach. However, some ex-
perts who were not on the research team questioned
whether the small-brained species was capable of
such behaviour and speculated that other ways to
access the chambers may have existed in the past.
So far, there is no evidence that Homo naledi used
stone tools or harnessed fire for its own uses.
The new discoveries offer a unifying message that
counters populism, intolerance and ethnic prejudice
sweeping many parts of the world, said Adam Habib,
vice-chancellor of Wits University.
"This research shows that we come from common
roots, that we represent a common humanity," Habib
said. "If we're going to survive as a species, that's
what we need to remember." (AP)
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