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TIGRA SCIENTIFICA: Homa Naledi provides clues to human evolution

t looks like is going to have to update their records because you have a new ancestor.

Well, that is if their records go back a few million years.

Your new ancestor belongs to the species Homo naledi, a type of hominin that has been extinct for millions of years. Fossils of this new species of early humans are likely to provide invaluable information about the evolution of hominids.

The fossils of at least 15 individuals were found in October of 2013 in South Africa, but it wasn’t until September of 2015 that Dr. Paul Dirks and his colleagues announced in eLife that they belonged to a new species. Multiple copies of most of the bones in the skeleton were included in the find.

“The unprecedented quantity and quality of these fossils will allow anthropologists to ask and hopefully answer questions about a host of topics such as growth strategies, longevity, and size range—topics that are frequently not able to be fully addressed in other species known from more incomplete fossil assemblages,” said Dr. N. Adam Smith, paleontologist and Curator of Clemson University’s Bob Campbell Geology Museum, about the findings.

In order to pay homage to South Africa,  researchers named the species Homo naledi, which was found in South Africa’s Rising Star cave system. The word “naledi” means star in the South African language of Sotho.

The fossils have already told researchers much about the appearance of Homo naledi, which have hands, arms, feet and legs similar to modern humans. The ribcage, shoulders and pelvis also resembled those of modern humans. Where the two diverge is skull structure: the skulls belonging to Homo naledi were smaller than modern humans and more similar to early hominin species that existed two to four million years ago.

Despite the wealth of knowledge already gained from the fossils, many questions about Homo naledi have yet to be answered, such as the time period during which Homo naledi lived. The only clue that researchers have so far is the aforementioned skull structure, which suggests that Homo naledi lived two to four million years ago. Researchers hope to find additional clues to get a more accurate estimate of the time period during which Homo naledi roamed the earth.

Investigators also wonder why so many individuals were buried in one location. Geographical and taphonomic (related to the processes that occur between death and fossilization) clues led Dirks and colleagues to believe that the site was used for body disposal. Other possible explanations include mass fatality, a death trap or a place where predators of Homo

naledi would bring the scavenged remains of the early hominins.

Although many questions remain regarding your newly discovered ancestor, Homo naledi has already revealed many clues about the evolution of modern humans. The discovery of over 15 specimens could prove to be one of the most valuable anthropological finds in history.

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