New Ape-Like Relative To Humans Found In South African Cave [Video]

In MAGALIESBURG, South Africa, the Canadian Associated Press reveals that a new discovery has been made linking bones of a mysterious species to humans.

As noted by the AP, “Scientists say they’ve discovered a new member of the human family tree, revealed by a huge trove of bones in a barely accessible, pitch-dark chamber of a cave.”

Researchers named the creature Homo naledi (nah-LEH-dee). Identifying the “Homo” evolutionary group, “which includes modern people and our closest extinct relatives, and the word for ‘star’ in a local language. The find was made in the Rising Star cave system.”

The unknown creature displays a mix of both ape-like and human features and have been described by researchers as “bizarre” and “weird.” The publication also notes some additionally strange factors in regards to the environment within which the species was found. The dark caves where the bones were discovered allowed only a 7.5 inch entry space, therefore making it virtually impossible for the relatively large human relative to pass in and out of the space.

Details as to exact location and number of individuals of the mystery species was also relayed.

“The bones were found by a spelunker, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) northwest of Johannesburg. The site has yielded some 1,550 specimens since its discovery in 2013. The fossils represent at least 15 individuals. Lee Berger, a professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg who led the work, said naledi’s anatomy suggest that it arose at or near the root of the Homo group, which would make the species some 2.5 million to 2.8 million years old. The discovered bones themselves may be younger, said Berger, an American. “

Researchers were also able to note characteristics about the species’ movement and extremities, identifying that the creatures were able to walk upright and had hands as well as feet that were very similar to humans. However, the shoulders and small brain were characteristic of the primitive species. In an eLife journal, researchers documented that they are unable to attach an age or year to the species’ life span, yet share that they are still working on making this discovery.

Director of the human origins program at the Smithsonian Institution’s Natural History Museum, Rick Potts, although not involved with the find, spoke on the pertinence in discovering the age of the fossils.

“There’s no way we can judge the evolutionary significance of this find. If the bones are about as old as the Homo group, that would argue that naledi is a snapshot of… the evolutionary experimentation that was going on right around the origin. If they are significantly younger, it either shows that naledi retained the primitive body characteristics much longer than any other known creature, or that it re-evolved them.”

The research and discovery has definitely been met with challenging views from other notable researchers such as Tim White of Berkeley, who believes the fossils are merely those of early humans and not of primitive/human creatures. Yahoo News shares White’s response to the find, via email.

“From what is presented here, (the fossils) belong to a primitive Homo erectus, a species named in the 1800s.”

Berger objects to this statement and went on to share that there isn’t any way that the species discovered is a primitive Homo erectus.

[South Africa Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, kissed a reconstruction of Homo naledi’s face during an announcement made at Maropeng Cradle of Humankind in Magaliesburg, South Africa, Thursday, AP PHOTO/THEMBA HADEBE]