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New human find from South Africa- Updated

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Friends at Pos-Darwinista (Brazil) offer all current Homo naledi papers here:

– Human evolution: The many mysteries of Homo naledi

Geological and taphonomic context for the new hominin species Homo naledi from the Dinaledi Chamber, South Africa

Homo naledi, a new species of the genus Homo from the Dinaledi Chamber, South Africa

Legacy medium New York Times:

The new hominin species was announced on Thursday by an international team of more than 60 scientists led by Lee R. Berger, an American paleoanthropologist who is a professor of human evolution studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. The species name, H. naledi, refers to the cave where the bones lay undisturbed for so long; “naledi” means “star” in the local Sesotho language.

In two papers published this week in the open-access journal eLife, the researchers said that the more than 1,550 fossil elements documenting the discovery constituted the largest sample for any hominin species in a single African site, and one of the largest anywhere in the world. Further, the scientists said, that sample is probably a small fraction of the fossils yet to be recovered from the chamber. So far the team has recovered parts of at least 15 individuals.

One source claims:

So how did this collection of individuals arrive in this dark, isolated and extremely difficult to access cave? …
After ruling all of the probable scenarios, such as mass death, transport by water and predation, the team was left with the improbable: this species was deliberately, repeatedly disposing of its dead in a protected area, away from the external environment. Before now, we thought that was a characteristic specific to modern humans. …

Well, there is no law against being a jackass and a human being at the same time.

“What does that mean for us?” ponders Berger. “Did we inherit it, has it always been there in our lineage, or did they invent it?” And for a species with such a tiny brain, the latter possibility is mind-boggling.

Maybe big brains are about as useful as big behinds? The way big 1980s computers were superior to the current I-pad. Has anyone ever studied any of this seriously? Or is it just more tax-funded Darwinblither?

From The Scientist:

Hawks and his colleagues describe the shoulders, chest, and pelvis of H. naledi as primitive in morphology, similar to Australopithecus and other early hominin species that existed up to 4 million years ago. H. naledi’s cranial capacity is between 465 and 560 cubic centimeters, roughly a third of the brain size of modern humans and the smallest in the genus, the researchers wrote.

However, other features of this new species appear more modern. H. naledi is similar in overall size and weight to small-bodied H. sapiens. Study coauthor Lee Berger of University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, told The Scientist: “the feet are practically indistinguishable from modern humans. This is a walker.”

“H. naledi possesses a combination of primitive and derived features not seen in the hand of any other hominin,” the authors wrote, but Carol Ward, a professor of pathology and anatomical sciences at the University of Missouri who was not involved with the study said she was disappointed by the lack of empirical data presented in the paper. “There are only tiny composite pictures of the fossils, so you can’t see them and there are no comparative data comparing it to anything else,” said Ward. “There’s nothing we can use to make our own judgments about the validity of what they are saying.”

Hmmm. That also raises the question: Would these people have stood out in the lineup for the intercity bus or train between Toronto and Ottawa (locations chosen, in part, because the lineup typically features a peaceful but globally diverse population).

How would we know if they were a different species?


The Rising Star Expedition has already removed parts of 15 individuals from the chamber, but researchers believe they’re only just scratching the surface and that there may be hundreds or even thousands more fossilized remains waiting to be unearthed.

H. naledi is a bit smaller and a lot older than we are, with curved fingers and a small skull, but in some ways the species is also strikingly similar to humankind.

What makes the discovery truly unique is the context of the find and what it tells us about who and what this primitive-looking hominid might have been. Researchers believe that H. naledi may have done something previously thought to be unique to humans: intentionally putting the bodies of its dead into a remote cave chamber in what scientists describe as a ‘ritualized behaviour’.

You don’t mean, like a “cemetery” or something?

From National Geographic:

There were some 1,550 specimens in all, representing at least 15 individuals. Skulls. Jaws. Ribs. Dozens of teeth. A nearly complete foot. A hand, virtually every bone intact, arranged as in life. Minuscule bones of the inner ear. Elderly adults. Juveniles. Infants, identified by their thimble-size vertebrae. Parts of the skeletons looked astonishingly modern. But others were just as astonishingly primitive—in some cases, even more apelike than the australopithecines. “We’ve found a most remarkable creature,” Berger said. His grin went nearly to his ears.

Delezene’s own fossil pile contained 190 teeth—a critical part of any analysis, since teeth alone are often enough to identify a species. But these teeth weren’t like anything the scientists in the “tooth booth” had ever seen. Some features were astonishingly humanlike—the molar crowns were small, for instance, with five cusps like ours. But the premolar roots were weirdly primitive. “We’re not sure what to make of these,” Delezene said. “It’s crazy.”

Okay, but before we go nuts, tooth pros have said that in dental offices in the Greater Toronto Area.

Now we are getting closer to the real story, courtesy New Scientist (possibly accidentally):

Although it was just about possible to dismiss A. sediba, with its assortment of ancient and modern features, as a quirk of human evolution, the new find hints that such “mosaicism” is not the exception in early humans but the rule, says Berger.

That has implications for how we interpret other early human fossil finds representing the transition from Australopithecus to Homo, he says. These fossils generally amount to just a few fragments rather than complete skeletons. “Both sediba and naledi say you can’t take a mandible [lower jaw], a maxilla [upper jaw] or a collection of teeth and try to predict what the rest of the body looks like,” he says.

Well, that is going to be bad for the two-inch headline industry.

Quote of the day: #HomoNaledi The teeth look remarkably like ours… #EWN

(You mean, not like a kangaroo’s? Wow.)

Twitter response: i left my dentures somewhere. Now stop clowning around and return them please as i can only eat soup!

Also: What we know about human evolution

Is "primitive" the subjective term of the week?
...pelvis of H. naledi as primitive in morphology... ...H. naledi possesses a combination of primitive and derived features... ...what it tells us about who and what this primitive-looking hominid might have been... ...But others were just as astonishingly primitive—in some cases, even more apelike than the australopithecines... ...But the premolar roots were weirdly primitive...
How are premolar roots "primitive"? Compared to what? Isn't that a word loaded with presupposition? bb
Are these ape or human bones? Indium
Dr JDD at 8, wd guess you are correct on that point, especially on not missing the grant app deadline. Will Templeton be onto this soon? Just curious. News
One thing I have personally learned after years and years of such reports is that they are completely: a) quick to jump to conclusions and over-sell/hype results b) completely misrepresented by the mass media and sold as a story that is near enough fabrication Hence why I find it hard to read anything into things like this. Already the news outlets make claim that it is a transitional human species. There won't be headlines though when that is completely disproven and people will still refer back to this find as "proof" of our descent from chimps. Good time to submit some hefty grant applications though for those involved! Nothing really new here though. Dr JDD
Prof Lee Berger made it clear on our local radio station today that Naledi is an ape and that people must not jump to any conclusions, (seems he's learnt his lesson with Sediba)but that is not stopping the local news outlets here from going absolutely ape :) Some of them are even proclaiming a new human relative was found! There is actually quite a few people questioning the integrity of the bones. http://www.702.co.za/articles/5091/new-species-of-human-relative-discovered-in-sa-cave Andre
Perhaps someone can help me here, but is it really possible for bones, especially such small ones, to have remained in such a state (laying exposed on the cave floor) for 3my? I somehow find that hard to believe, but no one seems to be asking that question, so I suppose it must be. Any thoughts? PeterJ
Lee Berger is of course the same guy that told us Sediba was this groundbreaking fossil now we have Naledi being sited as the shizzle..... 2nd time lucky I guess. At some point one of these apes gotta be Human right? Andre
Much fanfare here in SA about an ape..... Andre
YEC Todd Wood is impressed by the "ritual burial" aspect, but maybe it makes more sense if you don't accept the date of 1-2m years ago. If you do accept the dating it's decidedly odd that a hominid more primitive than H. erectus would gain the idea of mystical funeral rites only for it to be lost again to the whole human lineage until c100,000 BC when it occurred with large brains and relatively advanced culture. And I too wonder how scattered bone fragments = deliberate inhumation. Jon Garvey
Ian Tattersall, (who just recently co-authored a paper with Jeffrey Schwartz debunking homo habilis), doubts the homo designation of Naledi is valid:
Homo Naledi, New Species in Human Lineage, Is Found in South African Cave Excerpt: “It’s very, very fascinating,” said Ian Tattersall, an authority on human evolution at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, who was not involved in the research. “No question there’s at least one new species here,” he added, “but there may be debate over the Homo designation, though the species is quite different from anything else we have seen.” http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/11/science/south-africa-fossils-new-species-human-ancestor-homo-naledi.html?smid=fb-nytscience&smtyp=cur&_r=1
As to the claim that the cave was type of 'chamber for the dead' and the claim that 'these ancient people took enormous trouble to conceal their dead', on facebook retired scientist Edgar Andrews said, and I agree with him, that he has 'lot of scepticism' about that particular claim:
"As a scientist myself, I treat the recent reports from S. Africa about a new "missing link" between apes and humans with a lot of scepticism. According to the UK BBC report the cave where these bones were found contained randomly scattered fragments of bone and is extremely inaccessible (only the smallest women archaeologists can get to it.) It was then claimed that this shows that these ancient people took enormous trouble to conceal their dead. But if you're going to finish up scattering bones randomly you would hardly go to so much trouble to 'bury' the skeletons in the first place. It seems to me far more likely that the bones were carried into these remote caves by flood waters (as often observed in so-called fossil graveyards) and the original skeletons broken up in the process. It also means that the bones of humans and apes could have finished up in the same deposit ... easily giving rise to erroneous composite creatures being reconstructed from the pieces on the assumption that this is an intentional burial site. It will be interesting to know if bones from any other animal species were found there." Edgar Andrews - UCL - Class of 1953 · BSc, PhD, DSc · Physics · London, United Kingdom
As broadcast on the BBC News many times today. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-34192447 PeterJ

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