When you think of our primitive cousins, what do see? Do they look like the Sasquatch? Chewbacca? Caesar? Well apparently, one of them looks like this:
Reconstruction of Homo naledi by paleoartist John Gurche
In 2013, a new member has been added to the human family tree, Homo naledi, after the Sesotho word for "star." Now, researchers reveal that these species actually lived along side early Homo sapiens. Homo naledi was found on the Rising Star cave system in the so called Cradle of Humanity near Johannesburg, South Africa. The researchers, from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), have reported that the species' remains are around 236,000 and 335,000 years old.
If these dates are true, then it shows that as our own species was evolving, our little-brained cousins were also lingering around 2 million years ago or more. That is, H.naledi would've lived at a time where Homo heidelbergensis was making Acheulean hand axes and maybe even some Middle Stone Age tools.
“How do you know that these sites that are called [examples of] the rise of modern human behavior aren’t being made by Homo naledi?” says Lee Berger, who led the study. “You can imagine how disruptive that could be.”
Recently, Berger and his colleagues had announced that the Rising Star cave system yielded a second chamber, containing over 1,500 specimens of H. nadeli. The researchers uncovered 130 specimens from the Lesedi (named after the Setswana word for "light") chamber, representing two adults and a child. One of the adults, named Neo (after the Sesotho word for "gift") added new information that was needed from the first find.
'Neo' skull of Homo naledi from the Lesedi Chamber
“[Neo] is really comparable in preservation to the Lucy skeleton,” says John Hawks, a University of Wisconsin-Madison paleoanthropologist who’s part of the H. naledi team. He's also referring to Lucy, one of the oldest known human ancestors. “We’re missing some parts that Lucy has; we have some parts that Lucy doesn’t have.”
But this doesn't mean that we're done yet. Hawks estimates that the chambers are still somewhat unexplored and likely contains other remains. The researchers are also prospecting other cave systems, in search of other clues to our cousins.
One thing is for certain, there will be more surprises. Archaeology can really reveal some pretty strange things.