In November 2013 a new species was discovered Homo naledi. It was discovered in the Rising Star cave system in South Africa by paleoanthropologist Lee Berger. The Rising Star cave system is located within the Cradle of Humankind that covers 180 square miles that has been the site of other important hominin discoveries. Lee’s team excavated a total of 1,500 fossils that combined make up around 15 different individuals. The cave system is deep below the earth and away from the elements above. This left the remains untouched and unaltered from outside forces. Being away from the elements allowed the remains to be in pristine condition. When looking at Homo naledi it has slender arms and legs similar to modern day humans. It also has a small brain capacity similar to Homo erectus. Homo naledi also had hips, shoulders and a chest similar to an Australopithecus. According to Berger Homo naledi also had a powerful thumb. This discovery makes it sound like Homo naledi is a Frankenstein species. It has similar characteristics from three separate species. It’s interesting to see this because it makes it possible that all three lived relatively at the same time. Then again some of the similarities could have been holdovers through evolution. From the remains found that the age range was from all age groups, infant all the way to elderly. By looking at the remains it is believed that Homo naledi intentionally buried their dead similar to humans and Neanderthals. Berger was intrigued that a small brained primitive hominin buried their dead similar to large brained Homo sapiens and Homo heidelbergensis. It is believed that the cave was a burial ground since it was hard to get to and it would keep the remains of the dead undisturbed. It’s very similar to humans as to how they treated their dead. Humans bury their dead and keep them at a certain location and remain undisturbed. We don’t know if they had a spoken language or not but humans don’t generally speak ill towards the dead. It could be similar with Homo naledi because of how they have similar ritualistic ideas. Since there wasn’t any signs of tooth marks, broken bones, other dead animals, or even sedimentation that it was safe to assume that the cave was a burial ground for their dead. What made this discovery even more intriguing is that it was hard to date the remains. The surrounding rock and clay didn’t have any animal remains or anything else with a known date to help find a time frame for Homo naledi. Since there is no specific time frame it is suggested that Homo naledi came from deep time because of its primitive characteristics. If compared to the already known genus Homo then the remains could be as old as 2 million years. It could also be way younger than that. It would seem like it would be older rather than younger based on the fact that it has characteristics that resemble 3 different species. That would only happen if all three would alive at the same time or close together. Some of the characteristics could be holdovers from previous species and Homo naledi could just be a stepping stone from one species to the next. Like it seems like Homo naledi is that species or evolutionary experiment that is the first iteration of trial and error. It would seem plausible to say the least since it’s only a few specific traits of each. What if Homo naledi was a cross breed of an Australopithecus and a Homo erectus or a Homo erectus is a cross breed of a Homo naledi and an Australopithecus. It could be possible that with different hominin species living at the same time that they interbred to make a hybrid. Homo naledi could be the hybrid. It would make some sense since the remains were found in an area of Africa that is known to be the Cradle of Humankind. Those might seem like some farfetched ideas but it could be possible since it is hard to date the remains of Homo naledi. The chamber that held the remains was almost inaccessible through climbing since the smallest choke point is 7 inches wide. Berger sent his son, who was small enough, in with a camera. Berger assembled a team of “skinny” scientists that could fit intro that narrow crawl space for the excavation. During the same time of this discovery of Homo naledi Berger also working on another discovery of Australopithecus sediba. Since Berger was working on two different discoveries at the same time he had to hire more workers to help cache and decipher all 1,500 remains. Experts in different body parts worked with others in different but similar areas. Scientists that worked on an arm worked with scientists that did shoulders that would work with scientists that did upper body. Through the process of decoding the remains it was discovered that Homo naledi had even more similar characteristics with modern humans, Australopithecus, and Homo erectus. Homo naledi was a bipedal terrestrial that had a brain larger than an Australopithecus but still smaller than modern day Homo sapiens. Homo naledi had a slender build with hands that were suited for tool making. They lost the curved fingers and deep suborbital torus. In all Homo naledi is basically a little bit of three different species creating a Frankenstein like creature. Not that it looks like a Frankenstein but its traits being similar to different species makes it very bizarre. With this discovery it makes for an interesting case as to where it fits on the evolution of mankind. In the early days scientists believed that human evolution is extremely linear and that only one species of hominin could have lived at one time. Now through multiple discoveries the human evolutionary tree has blossomed into multiple different branches that it’s likely that different hominin species lived at the same time.




Works Cited

Larimore, Rachael. “Strange New Kin.” Slate, 10 Sept. 2015,