New Homo naledi fossils found in Lesedi Chamber

A new set of Homo naledi fossils have been recovered from Rising Star Cave. They come fro the Lesedi Chamber, near the entrance.


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Homo naledi is the latest addition to our fossil family. Since this enigmatic relative of ours was discovered a few years ago news has been trickling out. Each discovery seems to add more questions than answers. Notably, it was recently found to have lived only ~300,000 years ago. Yet it looks a lot older than that. Weird. Now, a whole batch of new fossils have been recovered from the Lesedi Chamber and true to form, they don’t clear much up.

Lesedi Chamber Introduction

Up until now all Homo naledi fossils had come from one chamber in that one cave. Now some have been discovered elsewhere . . . in another chamber of the same cave. I guess Homo naledi was just a really big fan of this one cave.

The location of the new chamber, nice and near the main entrance

The Lesedi Chamber itself is more than 100 metres away from the Dinaledi Chamber through a series of twists and turns. This confirms that the two represent separate deposits, and fossils from one haven’t somehow tumbled into the other (I think that would be a super determined fossil to do so). Another interesting point about this chamber is that it’s a lot easier to get into. The Dinaledi Chamber was behind a famously narrow crawl, to the point that only small members of the team could reach it. But it looks like even schlubs like me could reach the Lesedi Chamber.

The chamber itself contains at three individuals, represented by dozens of fossils. I don’t envy whoever had to put that jigsaw back together. But they did, and it looks like the three individuals consist of two adults and a juvenile. One adult is notable for being particularly large, with a brain volume of more than 600 cc. Now that might not sound like much compared to our 1300 cc, but it’s nearly 1/3 bigger than the other Homo naledi found so far.

More mysteries

Almost every discovery about Homo naledi has raised more questions than it answered. Like how a simple examination of the teeth revealed it had a unique diet. Perhaps the only time this didn’t happen is when researchers were simply able to confirm there was another fossil individual amongst all the bones they’d found. Well, the Lesesdi chamber is no exception.

The big on-going mystery about the cave is whether it represents a burial site. People have been going back and forth on this for quite a while. Part of the evidence for this came from the fact that the Dinaledi chamber was so hard to reach. Corpses clearly couldn’t have got there without some sort of intervention. So where does the relatively easy to access Lesedi Chamber fit into it? Might that throw things up in the air?

Another big question is what sorts of tools might the species have used. We’ve found none in the cave so far (part of the reason people think it was a burial site. It clearly wasn’t lived in). Now there’s a second chamber and still no tools. Might we have to face up to the fact this was a hominin that didn’t use stone tools? It would be the first one to be in that situation for nearly 2 million years.

Places where Homo naledi could have split off the family tree and formed a relic branch. Could the new fossils shed light on this?

Finally, we’re trying to figure out where the species falls within the human family tree. One idea is that it might be a remnant of an earlier lineage, hence why it is so old-looking yet lived so recently. This raises the question: were the two sets of fossils deposited at the same time? Given the broad similarities between them, the researchers think they were. But there’s no dates for the Lesedi Chamber to confirm this.

tl;dr

Homo naledi is an enigmatic species. Finding another three individuals in another part of the cave hasn’t done much to clear it up. But it does show there’s a lot more fossil material out there, so hopefully some questions will be answered in the long run.

References

Hawks, J., Elliott, M., Schmid, P., Churchill, S.E., de Ruiter, D.J., Roberts, E.M., Hilbert-Wolf, H., Garvin, H.M., Williams, S.A., Delezene, L.K. and Feuerriegel, E.M., 2017. New fossil remains of Homo naledi from the Lesedi Chamber, South Africa. eLife, 6, p.e24232.

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3 thoughts on “New Homo naledi fossils found in Lesedi Chamber”

  1. Ram Dusk says:

    The fossil specimens look more like Sahelanthropus tchadensis and even Symphalangus syndactylus than a “homo” and all the information coming out of this “research” group is unreliable and it have to do a lot with the change of ownership of national geographic that belongs to News Corp since September 2015 (a day before the naledi media blast started) owned by Rupert Murdoch’s (climate denier, religious and part of the establishment’s brain washing gang).

    New dating of 300k years ago, new skeletons discovered in previously explored area in a “new” chamber, a sudden increased in brain volume to 600 cc to support the narrative of burial, unknown diet but the teeth are damaged (maybe from cracking the bones of their relatives)… when you control the media you control the narrative and this all smells like a cover up (of cannibalism) and a scam supported by well known unintelligent sold-outs (Berger) and previously respected scientists (like Hawks).

  2. clayton says:

    I just read Lee Berger’s and John Hawks’ book, and I believe this is the chamber that they talk about after they had already gotten set up with the Dinaledi chamber, though according to the book there are still many fossils in the original chamber(?) (I haven’t written a book report in like, forever). I found it a very interesting look into the discovery of, and the subsequent work relating to, a new hominin species. I don’t have any problems with any of these guys, I’m just a sort of fan of paleoanthropology in general, and I think it’s totally awesome to find a species that is “From Out Of Time!!!” The mystery of Homo Naledi is like something out of Arthur C. Clarke! I love it how the more things we find out, the more things we find out we don’t really know.

    1. Adam Benton says:

      It also makes you wonder what else the cave might hold. If two incompletely studied chambers can reveal all this, what else might there be.

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