(REUTERS) – Scientists at the Marupeng centre in Johannesburg on Thursday (September 10) revealed fossils of a new human-like species they’re calling ‘Homo Naledi’.
Fossils of the creature were unearthed in a deep cave near the famed sites of Sterkfontein and Swartkrans, treasure troves 50 km (30 miles) northwest of Johannesburg that have yielded pieces of the puzzle of human evolution for decades.
The fact the fossils were found in a chamber has led Paleoanthropologists to believe that the ancient species also appeared to bury its dead, a trait previously believed to be uniquely human, through a process of deduction.
‘Homo Naledi’ was introduced to the world by Lee Berger, a research professor in human evolution at the University of Witwatersrand.
“Ladies and gentlemen I am pleased to introduce you to a new species of human ancestor. A new species …he is pretty, he is worth applause isn’t he. A new species within our very genus, a species that we have called Homo Naledi, Naledi meaning star,” he told those gathered for the unveiling.
Virtually no other remains from other species were found in the cave and the bones bore no claw or tooth marks – suggesting they were not the leftovers from a predator’s larder or death trap.
While explaining to Reuters more about ‘Homo Naledi’, Professor Berger said the species really is like nothing we have ever seen before.
“A tiny little head the size of an orange with very human like size teeth, but also teeth that are shaped like more primitive hominin. The body is unusual, ape like in the shoulders, primitive in the pelvis but the upper limbs and lower limbs are largely human-like, well that is except for the very curved distal phalanges of the fingers which indicate…which create a very odd package, a mosaic hominid, that was clearly a long distance walker but also something that was the very roots of our genus.”
He set aside another theory that they may have been hiding their dead deep underground, simply to keep off scavengers like the long-legged hyena.
This is not the first time that the study of our relatives, extinct or living, has yielded evidence that humans do not have the monopoly on certain kinds of behavior.
Jane Goodall in 1960 famously observed chimpanzees, our closest living relative, using grass stems for termite “fishing”, the first recorded use of a crude tool by non-humans.
Homo Naledi, discovered in the cave in September 2013, had a brain slightly larger than a chimpanzee’s, but its age remains an enigma.
“We can see from their physical morphology, their appearance, at least where their species originates in time. It must go to the base of our genus, the root of our genus, and if so, and if our present understanding is correct, then that must be in excess of 2.5 million years that is the species originates.”
There were also no fossils with them from other animals that could provide clues.