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New Human Species Called Homo Naledi Found In "Rising Star"

By Gecerein Sayen Ocampo | Sep 13, 2015 07:59 PM EDT

More than 1500 bones, belonging to at least 15 skeletons were recently found by a team of researchers in a cave system dubbed as the Rising Star located in South Africa. The cave is part of the Cradle of Humankind World heritage.

In a news conference covered by Reuters, South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa quoted "Today, we unearth our past. We are not exceptional. We are not the only ones who are able to bury our dead."

A report from The Sydney Morning Herald, the expedition leader, Dr. Lee Berger of the University of Witwatersrand cited there are more discoveries to be found in the cave. Researchers have no idea how old these fossils are. The discoveries were named as "Homo naledi", in honor of the "Rising Star" cave and in South Africa's Sesotho language, Naledi means "star".

An Australian geologist named Paul Dirks cited that "Nothing is certain at this early stage, but a lot of the evidence points to the chamber being a potential deliberate body disposal site." He added that the features of Homo Naledi that is combined with a human-like face, feet and hands. However, they had an ape-like torso and very small brain.

The research paper was published in an open-access journal eLife cited that the "modern humans or Homo sapiens" are now the only living species in their genus. But as recently as 20,000 years ago there were other species that belonged to the genus Homo. Together with modern humans, these extinct human species, our immediate ancestors and their close relatives are collectively referred to as hominins."

It [research] explained that the cave deposits represent sediment traps that have collected fossils for at least 3 Ma and possibly longer, thus, providing a unique window into Pliocene-Pleistocene ecosystems, and how they evolved over time as the climate and the landscape changed.

Darren Curnoe, human evolution researcher from the University of NSW had guessed that the fossils were between 1 and 2 million years old.

"It was hard to know exactly where the new species fit on the human evolutionary tree. But he suspected it would sit towards the base of the evolutionary branch that gave rise to Homo erectus and later species including our own," he added.

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