New human species found?

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The uncertainty of science: Scientists in South Africa think they have found fossils of a new human species.

In the end, the work of more than 60 researchers yielded a picture of “a relatively tall, skinny hominid with long legs, humanlike feet, with a core and shoulder that is primitive,” Berger says. Some body parts have come into sharper focus than others. In an analysis of the remarkably complete hands, paleoanthropologist Tracy Kivell of the University of Kent in the United Kingdom found that bones in the wrist were shaped like those in modern humans, suggesting that the palm at the base of the thumb was quite stiff. That would allow forces to dissipate over a larger area of the hand than in more primitive humans—a trait associated with tool use. At the same time, H. naledi had a weird thumb and long, curving fingers, as if it still spent a lot of time climbing.

The story of the discovery is interesting in that the fossils were found in a cave in a room that is very difficult to access, so difficult that the scientists themselves have never seen the site. Instead, they have sent very small cavers inside to do the fossil gathering.

There are many caveats to this story. The 15 skeletons appear different than humans, but to then create a whole human species from this single location is a bit risky.

I think the biggest mystery about this find involves its location. How the heck did these 15 individuals get trapped in this room at the back of a cave that requires you to squeeze down a vertical 100-foot chute only about 8 inches wide to enter?


  • maurice

    Predators ate them above the chute and their remains dropped down
    the hole was once larger and they fell to their death
    the cave was hit by a landslide

    Not every event in the past has to have a CSI answer :-)

  • PeterF

    Criticizing Lee Berger because he advertised for spelunkers because they weren’t trained paleoanthropologists was unfair. Anyone who has any knowledge of serious cavers know that they can be trusted to protect extremely delicate structures in three dimensions. Archaeologists often destroy important evidence just through the act of digging for fossils. (Thats why they screen the stuff they remove.)

    Perhaps there was another entrance to the chamber in prehistoric times. The structure known as “the Dragon’s back” may have been suspended from the ceiling in the past and it fell, closing off a passage similar to “superman’s crawl”.
    Apparently there was a large amount of debris in the cave that had to be removed to access the first chamber as indicated by the red line denoting the level of the “flowstone cap on red mud”. There may still be an undiscovered lower entrance.

    Or maybe their funeral rites entailed placing the dead in the top of the chute and decomposition carried them into the lower chamber.

    I’m always a little surprised when homo sapiens find it difficult to envision that sapiens are the only possible species within the genus homo. The fossil record tells a different story.

  • I hate acronyms. What does “CSI” mean?

    I was not implying a weird alien cause for their location in the cave. Your guess is reasonable, but since we do not know the condition of the remains in the cave it is difficult to theorize. As a caver however I must tell you that entering by the present access through the chute is far from trivial. Falling in is impossible for several reasons: You wouldn’t fall, too small. Second, according to the map at the link the remains were found on the opposite side of the room from the bottom of the chute.

    As for having an old entrance blocked by a landslide, that might also be true but it is unlikely. Caves are very stable, having been formed over a very long time by water processes.

  • Maurice

    Crime Scene Investigation. One letter short of NASA :)
    Visited Wind Cave nat’l monument in SD last month – lots of entrances, some small, some very large. Over time, some collapsed, some didn’t. I visited caves in the south central area of France as a kid, and the influx of water was such that you could watch a foot of growth for every 5 minutes (i looked like a powdered donut afterwards). Most caves found in that area were through obscure entrances when the main entrance was covered by landslides…. there’s a nice movie about a spectacular cave find on Netflix that is worth watching (french with english subs).

  • maurice

    just as a FYI – the denisovan “species” was pieced together from DNA taken from a single small bone. So – CSI techniques are helping us daily (remember the facial/hair – eye color reconstruction we can do now from a DNA sample?)

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