An international team of scientists has discovered the remains of what they say belong to a completely new species of human. The bones were found in a cave in South Africa and may change our view on the dawn of humanity. Here's a look at photos of the discovery, some of which are from the October issue of National Geographic magazine. [Read the full story on the human species discovery]
The scientists involved, including lead author Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, have named the newfound species Homo naledi — "naledi" means "star" in Sotho (also called Sesotho), one of the languages spoken in South Africa. The bones were discovered in what has been named the Dinaledi chamber within the Rising Star cave system, in South Africa's Cradle of Humankind. Paleoartist John Gurch spent some 700 hours recreating the head of Homo naledi based on bone scans. (Photo Credit: Mark Thiessen/National Geographic)
H. naledi would have sported a similar body mass and size to small-bodied human populations, but its brain was relatively smaller, with its endocranial volume (a proxy for brain size) more similar to the australopiths, or members of the Australopithecus genus, the researchers found.
Shown here, the braincase of a composite male skull, measuring 34 cubic inches (560 cubic centimeters), with the modern human skull pictured in the background. (Image Credit: Stefan Fichtel. Sources: Lee Berger and Peter Schmid, Wits; John Hawks, University of Wisconsin-Madison/National Geographic)
Here a composite skeleton of the overall body plan of H. naledi, along with an illustration showing how it compares with Homo species such as H. erectus and australopithecines such as Lucy. (Photo Credit: Skeleton: Stefan Fichtel/National Geographic Body Comparison Painting: John Gurche; Sources: Lee Berger and Peter Schmid, Wits; John Hawks, University of Wisconsin-Madison)
By studying the remains, the researchers found evidence that individuals of H. naledi seemed to have intentionally placed the bodies of their dead into this remote cave chamber; this behavior was previously thought to be limited to modern humans. Here, lead researcher Lee Berger's daughter, Megan, who is acting as a safety caver on the expedition, and underground exploration team member Rick Hunter navigate the narrow chutes leading to the Dinaledi chamber where fossil specimens belonging to the new species were discovered. (Photo Credit: Robert Clark/National Geographic)
Arranging a skeleton
Berger and his colleagues unearthed fossils from at least 15 individuals, with multiple specimens for most of the bones in the skeleton. The species would have been equipped with tree-climbing hands and ground-walking feet. (Photo Credit: Berger et al. eLife 2015;4:e09560. DOI: 10.7554/eLife.09560, Creative Commons)
"While the skull had several unique features, it had a small braincase that was most similar in size to other early hominin species that lived between 4 million and 2 million years ago," the researchers wrote in the journal eLife. "Homo naledi's ribcage, shoulders and pelvis also more closely resembled those of earlier hominin species than those of modern humans." Here, the hand of the newfound species, found articulated, the researchers said.
Though H. naledi is unique, the researchers note the species is most similar to early Homo species including Homo erectus, whose skull is shown here, Homo habilis or Homo rudolfensis. (Photo Credit: Thomas Roche | Wikimedia Commons)
The discovery of Homo naledi is the cover story for the October issue of National Geographic magazine. (Photo Credit: Mark Thiessen/National Geographic)
Campsite in South Africa where National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Lee Berger of the University of Witwatersrand led an expedition to recover the remains of H. naledi, a new species of human relative. The find was announcedbythe University of the Witwatersrand, the National Geographic Society and the South African National Research Foundation and published in the journal eLife. (Photo Credit: Andrew Howley/National Geographic)
Getting into the Dinaledi chamber in the Rising Star cave meant climbing up a steep limestone block called the Dragon's Back and then a descent down a narrow crack just 7 inches (18 centimeters) wide. A global call for researchers who could fit through the narrow opening resulted in six women who would serve as "underground astronauts." Here, two underground astronauts, Marina Elliott and Becca Peixotto, work inside the cave where fossils of H. naledi were discovered. (Photo Credit: Garreth Bird)