“This is a tremendously significant find,” said Terry Garcia, National Geographic Society’s (NGS) chief science and exploration officer.

“This is why, when we received a call from Lee Berger reporting the fossils’ initial discovery, we immediately committed our support to this remarkable effort.”

Two expeditions were led by National Geographic (NatGeo) Explorer-in-Residence and the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) Evolutionary Studies Institute’s Professor Lee Berger.

Berger and her team of between 50 to 60 scientists and cavers were supported and funded by partners Wits, the NGS, the South African Department of Science and Technology (DTS), the National Research Foundation (NRF), the Gauteng Provincial Government and Gauteng Tourism Authority, The Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site and Maropeng, and James Cook University.

Thousands of fossil elements found

1, 550 numbered fossil elements belonging to the species Homo Naledi (H. naledi) were discovered.

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1, 550 numbered fossil elements belonging to the species Homo Naledi (H. naledi) were discovered.

The elements were initially discovered in 2013 in a cave in the Cradle of Humankind Maropeng in Gauteng, South Africa and represented at least 15 individuals ranging in age and possibly representing both male and female.

Located approximately 90 metres from the entrance to the Dinaledi Chamber, the find challenges what scientists believed they knew about human origins and the human genus.

The remains were found almost alone in the isolated chamber and showed signs that there were very few accidental visitors.

How did they die?

“We explored every alternative scenario, including mass death, an unknown carnivore, water transport from another location, or accidental death in a death trap, among others,” said Berger.

“We were left with intentional body disposal by Homo naledi as the most plausible scenario.”

The form of ritualised, repeated behaviour was believed to be uniquely human.

  1. naledi’s mix of primitive features as well as enough human-like ones to warrant placing it in the genus Homo, also represents a challenge to existing theories and human lineage.
  2. naledi has a small brain, the size of an average orange, which is similar to australopiths such as Lucy and Mrs Ples.

The shape of H. naledi’s skull with notable features such as distinct brow ridges and narrowing of the cranium behind the orbits illustrates belonging to the genus Homo.

H. naledi walked upright

Interestingly, H. naledi has feet much more like humans’ than those of a chimpanzee illustrating it walked upright. Its strongly curved fingers however illustrates the H. naledi regularly climbed.

The discovery is predicted to, depending on the age of H. naledi and on future finds, impact the development of the African archaeological record, interpretation of the South African archaeological record, and questioning the creators of the stone tools.

And the team does not believe the discoveries will end anytime soon.

“There are potentially hundreds if not thousands of remains of H. naledi still down there,” said Berger.

“This chamber has not given up all of its secrets”.

Fascinating facts – H. naledi by the numbers:

  • 2014 – The year the fossils were analysed in a unique workshop funded by the South African Department of Science and Technology, the National Research Foundation, the University of the Witwatersrand, and the National Geographic Society
  • 2013 – The year of the initial discovery and expedition
  • 1550 – The number of separate bones and bone fragments recovered thus far from the floor of the cave chamber
  • 500 – The approximate cubic centrimetres representing the size of H. naledi’s brain
  • 150 – Just over this number of hand bones have been found in the Dinaledi Chamber so far
  • 100 – There are just over this number of foot bones in the current H. naledi sample
  • 90 – The number of metres the fossil elements were from the entrance of the chamber
  • 60 – Just more than this number of cavers and scientists worked together on the expeditions
  • 45 – The average and estimated weight of H. naledi in kilograms
  • 21 – The number of days the initial expedition took
  • 18 – The width of the cave opening in centimetres
  • 15 – The minimum number of individuals believed to be represented in the discovery of the fossil elements
  • 8 – The number of individuals found so far identified as children of various ages
  • 6 – The number of women chosen from a global pool of scientists to be “underground astronauts”, those small enough to fit through the cave opening
  • 5 – The number of individuals found so far identified as adults
  • 2 – The number of “Rising Star” expeditions that discovered and recovered the fossils
  • 2 – The cavers who made the initial discovery of the fossil elements at the Dinaledi Chamber, Rick Hunter and Steven Tucker
  • 5 – The average height of the H.naledi in metres
  • 0 – The number of other large animals apart from H. naledi to have ever found their way into the Dinaledi Chamber signalling the fossils were most likely intentionally placed there

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Author: ANA Newswire